The Story of OWise: The Woman Behind the Breast Cancer App

Found and CEO of Px Healthcare, creater of the OWise breast cancer support app

To celebrate International Women’s Day 2024 we interviewed Anne Bruinvels, the founder and CEO of Px Healthcare, the company behind OWise. We explore Anne’s journey from childhood through to creating OWise, how OWise helps breast cancer patients and is used for medical research. We talk about Anne’s love of bringing support to people when they really need it, and the challenges she faced while bringing OWise to life.  

Life before OWise

My journey to starting OWise really started with a childhood curiosity about medical research. I was fascinated by how we treat illnesses and discover new ways to help people. So, I followed my passion, studying pharmacy in the Netherlands and later doing a Master’s in France, where I explored how drugs interact with proteins to tackle various diseases. Then, in Switzerland, I embarked on a PhD in neurobiology, diving into the roles of certain proteins in brain disorders, all in the same lab where LSD was discovered! 

Anne Bruinvels the founder and CEO of Px Healthcare, the creator of the OWise breast cancer support app

After my PhD I moved to the UK and started working as a Discovery Scientist in a neuroscience research institute at a pharmaceutical company. This was a pivotal moment where I could dive deep into my passion for understanding the roots of psychiatric diseases like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. As I delved into personalised medicine, it hit me – finding the right treatment tailored to each patient could revolutionise how we tackle these conditions. 

Following my time in pharmaceutical research, I took a leap and started my own biotechnology company. Our focus was delving into detailed genomic research to uncover the biological mechanisms driving psychiatric diseases, all in pursuit of safer and more effective treatments. With an amazing team by my side, I was able to grow the company and then eventually bring the company to be listed on the London Stock Exchange. After the company was bought, I felt a calling to explore different avenues, particularly those that could support people grappling with complex diseases like cancer. 

The inspiration behind OWise  

A combination of factors inspired me to create OWise. One big moment was in 2010 and the first iPad had now been launched. It became clear to me that digital technology could be a game-changer in supporting people with chronic diseases and cancer. Around that time, I was also leading the European Personalised Medicine Association. I was advocating for more personalised treatments rather than a one treatment for all approach and to make newly discovered personalised treatments and diagnostic tests more easily available for those who need it, particularly for cancer patients.  

Then, very sadly, a close friend was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was in her mid-thirties at the time, and I watched as the fear and anxiety took over this vibrant young woman. It was terrifying to see such a strong person overwhelmed by the confusion surrounding her treatments, the medical reports, her outcomes and whether or not she should ask for a second opinion. I felt that navigating through a diagnosis like this should not feel like wading through a maze of medical jargon and require reading through pages of information that did not apply to her. It was clear to me that people affected by cancer should be guided, supported and empowered every step of the way, which lead to the birth of OWise! 

The aim of OWise

The ’O’ in OWise stands for Oncology, together with patients we created this app to help from the moment of diagnosis to become ‘wise’ about their medical situation. I teamed up with my brother, a medical doctor specialised in helping cancer patients return to work. He told me that many women at the hospital associated with the Netherlands Cancer Institute where he worked, were desperate for more support, and were literally asking for support that could be accessed through their smartphones. It became clear to us that there was a real need for something more, something that could provide support and guidance from the moment of diagnosis. It was then that we started sitting down with lots of people affected by cancer to design OWise to help give them what they needed. Anne Bruinvels the founder and CEO of Px Healthcare, the creator of the OWise breast cancer support app

After speaking to hundreds of patients, almost all of them said that their world was turned upside down after hearing the words “you have cancer”. I hope for OWise to help reduce the trauma being caused by a cancer diagnosis and treatment, by giving people the tools to understand their medical situation and feel more in control. Based on studies done using OWise so far, it appears that it can reduce the anxiety caused by a breast cancer diagnosis and that app users feel more in control. We believe that OWise gives the tools for those with a cancer diagnosis to better manage their own situation and have more meaningful conversations with their medical teams.  

What OWise users have to say

Hearing from our users is incredibly humbling. They’ve described OWise as a “buddy” that helps take away their fear and confusion, and that means the world to me. Not everyone is able to bring a family member or friend along with them to their medical appointments. It can be difficult sitting through these alone as these visits can be stressful and there is a lot of information to take in. We created the secure audio-recording feature with this in mind, so you can replay all that important information in your own time with whoever you wish to share it with while it can’t be shared online, which is what doctors prefer. 

Image of a mobile phone screen displaying the OWise breast cancer app. On the screen the image shows how the diary feature in the OWise breast cancer app is used.You can keep track of appointments using the OWise diary feature. Here you can add key information from appointments as notes, photos or recordings. Access this information offline and look back at it in your own time. You can even show your loved ones to make sure they are up to date.

One lady who was using OWise at the time had further testing done on her breast cancer. When she entered this new information into OWise, new questions were suggested to ask her medical team that were tailored for her. She loved that the app changed with her and continued to help her throughout the different stages of her treatment.  

OWise and medical research

I hope that the OWise app can help patients to have their voices heard loud and clear, whoever or wherever they are. The treatment data collected via OWise is fully anonymous and may be used to contribute to medical research. We also have created an additional research function, which will soon allow users to contribute directly to medical research by sharing their experience on certain treatments. This will give a much better impression of how treatments affect patients in the real-world outside of tightly controlled clinical trials.  My dream is that OWise will be the main platform to carry out patient-focused cancer studies and that this research can help to improve health outcomes for cancer patients everywhere.  

The challenges of bringing OWise to life

Setting up a company with new innovations in healthcare takes a long time and needs to be approved by many regulators and authorities, making it a real challenge to bring new ideas to life. Existing healthcare systems and organisations are complex, there are many rules and regulations, which can make them slow to adopt changes too.  

My brother and I are deeply committed to making a real, lasting impact on the lives on cancer patients. So, finding the right investors that would support our long-term vision rather than push us to sell the company and ensuring we became financially sustainable was a challenge. There was a moment in the middle of the COVID pandemic that we were not sure if we would make it.  

But we stuck to our vision, followed our passion, and powered through those tough times. We made it work. Now every single day I get to wake up and do work that I am passionate about. It is an honour to have been able to build an organisation where patients come first in every single thing that we do as a business and do work that positively impacts their lives.  

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