On Oct. 7, 2016, Astellas announced the winners of its inaugural C³ Prize™ (Changing Cancer Care) to recognize non-medicine innovations that have the potential to truly change the face of cancer care. Among the range of ideas aiming to revolutionize the way cancer care is delivered, Oncomfort was selected as the C³ Prize Grand Prize Winner.
Here, Diane Jooris, co-founder and CEO of Oncomfort, speaks to Change Together about how it felt to be chosen as the Grand Prize Winner and what the future holds for the organization.
Where did the concept of Oncomfort originate?
I have personal experience of cancer because my father died from bone cancer and my sister was diagnosed with breast cancer four years ago. It was my sister who pushed me to develop the idea of at-home, on-demand psychological support after she said she was simply too tired to attend her sessions. At the time, I was working at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, helping patients to reduce their anxiety during stressful procedures or before surgery, and I realized that the beneficial effect I was having was only felt during the time I could spend with them, which frustrated me because it felt like my work was limited. That led to the concept of developing a patient audio solution, including a library of standardized psychological sessions.
However, while this did give patients something to help them in these situations, I didn’t feel it was immersive enough. I then came across virtual reality (VR) and immediately felt this was the missing piece I had been looking for. That was when I met Joowon Kim, the co-founder of Oncomfort, and together we created the VR solution you see today.
How does Oncomfort work?
Oncomfort is a tool that delivers standardized psychological intervention, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), exposure therapy, acceptance therapy and mindfulness, alongside basic information regarding procedures, all within a VR setting. The VR completely immerses the patient in a 360o world which, combined with the information delivered, is designed to help patients self-manage their stress and anxiety.
The technology is based on research from the past 20 years demonstrating the influence of psychology in cancer treatment response and success. Many studies have found that state of mind can impact a person’s immune system, stability of vital signs, the hormonal system and even cancer biology itself, but the ratio of psychologists to hospitals beds is incredibly low so not all patients have access to the service they provide. Oncomfort helps to supplement their work, acting as a portable, low-cost and always-available source of “first-aid” psychological intervention.
How did it feel to win the C³ prize?
We were extremely proud to be selected as a finalist, but thought everyone had such amazing ideas we would never win! We’re so happy we did because we believe we can make a huge difference to patients’ lives. Winning the Grand Prize not only gives us legitimacy and visibility, it also gives us the means to move forward, develop our product and make an impact. It also helps raise the profile of psychological intervention in cancer, which is not something that’s traditionally mentioned in conversations about cancer.
What are the future plans for Oncomfort?
Our current goal is to create a solution that covers the whole cancer journey – from diagnosis to treatment and beyond. We have had requests from doctors in other countries, including healthcare professionals in other disciplines but – for the time being – we’re focusing on lifting the huge burden that those affected by cancer experience. We want to be there for every key stage in a cancer patient and caregiver’s journey.