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The Novo Nordisk Innovation Challenge will ask entrepreneurs and researchers to develop digital tools for diabetes management. (Novo Nordisk Image)

More than 100 million people in the U.S. have diabetes or pre-diabetes, making the disease one of the most common — and costly — health problems in the country.

Danish multi-national pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk and Chicago-based healthcare incubator Matter are looking to take on that problem with the Novo Nordisk Innovation Challenge, which launches Tuesday, Oct. 9.

The competition will ask entrepreneurs, researchers and other healthcare innovators to create new digital tools to help diabetes patients achieve better health. It kicks off with two launch events: One at Matter in Chicago and one at Cambia Grove in Seattle, part of TechStars Seattle Startup Week.

“The Entrepreneurial community in Seattle is thriving, especially in the digital space, with non-traditional partnerships being forged,” Thomas Miller, the VP of Novo Nordisk’s US device research, told GeekWire in a statement. “This area is a hub of innovation and we want to tap into that spirit.”

At the Seattle launch, which takes place from 3 to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 9, senior engineers from Novo Nordisk’s Seattle research center will discuss the challenges facing diabetes patients and the kinds of solutions the challenge is hoping to create. They will be joined by Oren Nissim, the CEO of digital diabetes management platform Brook.ai.

Challenge participants will have access to patient data, gathered by Novo Nordisk pen injectors, to develop their digital solutions, like digital tools for patients or health IT technologies. Initial applications are due Oct. 26 and a group of ten to fifteen semi-finalists will move on to the next round of the competition.

Three to five finalists will be selected after a demo day in December. Each finalist will receive $25,000 in seed funding and enroll in a 12-week, semi-virtual accelerator where they will work alongside Novo Nordisk and Matter to develop their projects.

Diabetes is increasingly a target for digital health solutions. Last year, Seattle startup Wellpepper won Amazon’s Alexa Diabetes Challenge, which aimed to create applications for the Alexa smart assistant in diabetes management.

One reason for that new focus is the cost of diabetes to the healthcare system. A study commissioned by the American Heart Association found that diabetes costs $237 billion a year in direct medical costs. For comparison, another study found that the total cost of treating cancer in 2015 was about a quarter of that amount at just over $80 billion.

Novo Nordisk’s Seattle engineering center was established in 2009 and focuses on device research and digital therapeutics. It is in the South Lake Union neighborhood.

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