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Case Study: COPD Crowdshaped

Raising awareness of COPD and its global impact

Published: 13 Jan 2017


Client: Novartis

Agency: Health Unlimited

Campaign: COPD Crowdshaped

Timescale: N/A

A quick look

Imagine having to fight for every breath. Your world becomes smaller and, one day at a time, you become more isolated. This is life with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) for 210 million people globally. But imagine if innovation could change that. In June 2015, Health Unlimited, Novartis Pharmaceuticals and the COPD Foundation crowdsourced 50 of the world’s most progressive thinkers to help address the global challenge of COPD. COPD Crowdshaped: two days, 50 visionaries, one cause was the pharma industry’s first open-innovation event to involve non-HCPs in a live attempt to solve a health-related problem; with no pre-defined outputs and no IP owned by the agency or the client.


COPD is one of our greatest health challenges, that is predicted to become the world’s third biggest killer by 2030. Treatments can help people manage their disease, but research shows that they have to constantly adjust their ‘normal’ each day. As the ability to breathe worsens, activity and socialisation become more difficult and people with COPD become increasingly isolated, leading to further psychological and physical health issues.


COPD Crowdshaped was our solution to Novartis’ challenge to raise awareness of COPD and its impact. Developed and implemented as a three-way partnership between Health Unlimited, Novartis and the COPD Foundation, COPD Crowdshaped was a first-in-pharma open innovation event, bringing together 50 global leaders outside healthcare for a fresh, lateral approach to a long-standing problem. The rule book was thrown out. Novartis supported an event with no predefined outcomes or IP ownership. Success would be measured by divergent thinking and innovative approaches; not marketable solutions.

The challenge to the crowd was simply to create new solutions to improve the daily lives of those with COPD. The crowd divided itself into groups based on key themes and interests - such as big data, community and education - and worked together to generate a range of solutions. In total, seven solutions were developed by the end of Day One - tested overnight with the COPD Foundation’s global online community - then refined on Day Two using the experiences of non-group members to critically evaluate the thinking.


The outcomes from COPD Crowdshaped are truly inspiring. Within 12 weeks there were two working prototypes, including COPD360Coach, an online peer-coaching tool which has been rolled out via Johns Hopkins Hospital, benefiting thousands of patients to date. A further five ideas are in development and funding is being sought to bring them to market.

At the European Respiratory Society (ERS) congress 2015, we convened the world’s first three-university simultaneous hackathon with over 400 participants from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Imperial College London and Technion - Israel Institute of Technology. The event, held in partnership with the COPD Foundation, generated a further 30 solutions to help people breathe better.

COPD Crowdshaped provided a catalyst for change within Novartis by demonstrating a different way to view and quantify the value of innovation outside the traditional pharma R&D model. It also provided the organisation with new, complementary proof points to support the company’s innovation story.

Client verdict

“The best thing about COPD Crowdshaped was that patients were the real winners. It validated that individuals with COPD are critical to the success of patient-generated solutions. They remain key members of the healthcare team and are now leading design teams to ensure their voice is heard and creative solutions are developed - a very powerful message. On a personal note, it was one of the best experiences of my professional career.” Deb McGowan, senior director of population health and outcomes, COPD Foundation For us at Health Unlimited, COPD

Crowdshaped is one manifestation of our commitment to innovation that is grounded in pragmatism and delivers a genuine financial and social return for our partners. Too often innovation is pushed as a business imperative, with no clear understanding of the broader business challenge or desired commercial goals. If we truly want to be patient-centric, being clear about what we are innovating for is critical.

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