Innovation Challenges

Challenge Owner(s) Novartis
Organiser(s) SGInnovate
Industry Type(s)
Digital/ICT, Healthcare & Biomedical
Opportunities and Support Opportunities to connect and collaborate with open innovation leaders in Singapore and the region
Application Start Date 1 November 2021
Application End Date 3 January 2022
Website Click here to learn more

About Challenge

Novartis wants to identify ways to accelerate the diagnosis of patients with non-radiographic axial spondyloarthritis (nr-axSpA) and facilitate clinical decision support. Axial spondyloarthritis (SpA) is a chronic inflammatory spinal disease and includes nr-axSpA and ankylosing spondylitis (AS).

Patients with AS have structural damage in the sacroiliac joints and/or the spine that is visible on X-rays. Patients with nr-axSpA do not have features of sacroiliitis that are visible on X-rays but have a disease burden comparable to that of patients with AS, including inflammatory back pain (IBP; predominantly in the pelvis and lower back), morning stiffness, nocturnal awakening, fatigue, and reduced spinal mobility.

The prevalence of nr-axSpA is reported to be ~0.1% – 0.4% in the general population, more prevalent in women, and ~16% – 37% in patients with IBP.

Early diagnosis of nr-axSpA is vital for symptom/disease management and to potentially limit spinal damage. However, diagnostic delays of nr-axSpA are common due to the non-radiographic nature of the disease and the need for a more expensive and less accessible (to patients) imaging modality – magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Hence we are looking for an advanced technological solution that utilises conventional X-rays to predict sacroiliitis and negates the need for an MRI. Ultimately, this approach may facilitate earlier nr-axSpA diagnosis and treatment for patients.

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Challenge Owner(s)Novartis
Industry Types(s)
Digital/ICT, Healthcare & Biomedical


The diagnosis of non-radiographic axial spondyloarthritis (nr-AxSpA) is complicated and at times protracted, beginning with a clinician’s interpretation of X-rays and requiring an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) for confirmation.


Together with our partner in the rheumatology department of a major hospital, we want to identify ways to accelerate the diagnosis of patients with such conditions and facilitate and support clinical decision-making.

Desired Outcomes:

Technology that has the ability to predict nr-AxSpA from X-rays alone is one example, or as a precursor to that, able to draw highly accurate (sensitive/specific) correlations between X-rays and MRIs. These approaches are not exhaustive, and we are open to ideas from across the patient journey, be it awareness, screening, diagnosis, treatment or otherwise.

Conditions to Apply:

o  Ideally, startups who have validated their solution in a clinical setting, whether for nr-AxSpA or related indications (eg. chronic disease).

o  Otherwise, companies who have validated results from a proof-of-concept (POC) and/or pilot and who are seeking a partner with deep scientific and medical expertise.

o  The startup will be a Singapore-based company with the ambition to scale either regionally (Asia-Pacific) or globally.

o  Team members with prior pharmaceutical, medical and/or healthcare-related expertise are preferred but not a prerequisite.

Working Model:

o  Novartis will provide a dedicated digital innovation lead to work with the startup to design and deliver a POC within a clinical setting.

o  Selected mentors from Novartis and a leading Singapore hospital will provide medical and scientific guidance.

o  A small, representative dataset (X-ray) is available for the purposes of a POC but is subject to the regulations and responsibilities required from our partnering clinician and hospital.

o  POC funding is available for startups on a case-by-case basis, and as deemed necessary by Novartis.

o  Novartis will provide an optional co-working space for the startup, which sits within the Biome Digital Innovation Lab in Mapletree Business City.

For more information and to submit your solution, please click here