Mobile service Noona breaks into US market

Finland-based mobile service for cancer patients joins forces with Stanford Medicine and announces top-level team of scientific advisors.

Jani AhonalaNoona is a mobile service that collects rich patient-reported data and uses smart algorithms to improve cancer care while saving clinical resources. With Noona, cancer patients report their condition via a mobile device, tablet or computer during and after the treatment period. The medical team can automatically identify acute symptoms in an early phase and target patients in need of immediate care. As a result, clinics are able to allocate resources to the patients most in need, while simultaneously improving the quality of care planning and patient satisfaction. For pharma companies and cancer researchers, Noona provides a unique data source to analyze health outcomes of new cancer treatments.

"Prior to starting Noona, I and my colleagues worked extensively in cancer care, both in research and other areas such as service design for care applications," says Noona CEO Jani Ahonala. "We found that typically the intervals between care visits for cancer patients can be very long, perhaps a month or even longer once treatment has begun. As a result, it is challenging for clinics to follow how their patients are doing."

Ahonala and his team noted that though patients often experience side symptoms from cancer treatments, these seldom appear all at once. The first mild symptoms such as pain or nausea can be difficult to interpret, yet can also worsen rapidly. At this point, the usual response is for the patient to call emergency care or enter the hospital. "Once the symptoms are this bad, it's already too late. This kind of care pattern is also far from optimal on both a human and economic level", Ahonala says.

The core idea behind Noona was to develop a service that patients could use to report their own symptoms and condition via mobile phone. The application knows the patient's history, diagnosis and treatments, and can warn the hospital if serious symptoms are developing. At the same time, for less serious symptoms the solution can reassure patients and provide self-care instructions.

Scientific dream team on board

Noona has gained ground rapidly since its founding only two and a half years ago. The company's research and development was accelerated by a strategic partnership with the Helsinki University Hospital Comprehensive Cancer Center. "In designing our application, we had access not only to 30 top experts in cancer care, but also a test community of 100 patients who were willing to help develop the service," Ahonala says. "This really enabled us to focus on both the technical implementation as well as the usability of the software."

Noona was originally designed for breast cancer patients but has since expanded to support
the treatment of all major cancer types. In June of this year, the company was nominated at Lausanne, Switzerland's Healthtech Summit as one of the 20 most promising digital health companies in Europe out of 320 hand-picked candidates.

Recently, the company also teamed up with its first two front-row scientific advisors. Professor George Sledge is Chief of Division of Oncology at Stanford University Medical Center, while Professor Ethan Basch is Director of the Cancer Outcomes Research Program, and Professor at UNC-Chapel Hill Department of Medicine.

"This is a tremendous opportunity for us, and a testimony to how far we have been able to come," Ahonala says. "Working with Professor Sledge and Professor Basch will really help take us to the next level in building a game-changing mobile service for cancer care."

On the road towards commercialization

With a mature product and strong research background, Noona is ready to take its offering to the wider healthcare market. Ahonala points out that support from Tekes – the Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation has been essential in opening up the US market for the company. "For the last year, we have been really active in meeting potential partners and customers in the US," he says.

The hard work by the Finnish entrepreneurs is paying off. Last spring, Noona signed a significant collaboration agreement with Stanford Medicine, which operates one of the world's most highly regarded cancer clinics. After several months of product development work, the Noona solution was taken into production use at Stanford this August.

"The feedback has been extremely positive. The team at Stanford has been very impressed by what we have been able to develop here in Finland together with the Helsinki University Hospital," says Ahonala. "Both the technology and the care expertise behind the solution have received a lot of praise."

New applications on the horizon

On the heels of the Stanford Medical deal, Noona is already in discussion with several other major academic cancer centers in the US. Even though the software was originally designed to allow clinics to react quicker to patient symptoms and decrease the number of unplanned hospital visits, it is already attracting interest from other fields as well.

"Earlier this year, we began discussions with pharmaceutical companies on how Noona could be used as a new way to conduct pharmaceutical research," Ahonala says.

Traditionally clinical trials for pharmaceuticals have been conducted through on-site interviews in which patients report the symptoms and results they have experienced. With Noona, patients could use the mobile application to provide reports at much more immediate intervals and with greater precision.

"This would be a tremendous advantage for pharmaceutical research connected to cancer care," says Ahonala.

Making it happen

Ahonala and his team have spent the last few years actively developing their offering as well as travelling through the US, pursuing contacts and business opportunities. With their hard work finally paying off, Ahonala encourages other healthcare startups to follow.

"Even with the great support that we've had from funding agencies such as Finland's Tekes, you just need to put in those hours. If you want to get top people such as George Sledge on board your company or build customer relationships in this extremely competitive market, you can't just travel to a trade event once a year and then send out a bunch of follow-up e-mails. It takes a lot more than that, but I highly encourage young entrepreneurs who have the next great idea to go for it and make it happen. It can be done."


Jani Ahonala, CEO
+358 40 583 7377

Noona Healthcare is one of Team Finland companies showcasing at Health 2.0’s 10th Annual Fall Conference in California. 

Pia Mörk
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