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Success story article5 April 2023

Tired of cancer: Help is at hand, literally at your fingertips

Untire app Netherlands
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Healthcare
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NETHERLANDS

Cancer related fatigue (CRF) affects millions of cancer patients and survivors. Now, a mobile app, Untire, is available as a step-by-step guide to reduce the incessant tiredness caused by cancer and its treatments and help regain energy and quality of life.

Nine years ago, Door Vonk, with 20 year’s experience in fundraising for social enterprises, and Dr Bram Kuiper, a psycho-oncologist, put their heads together to tackle a big issue for millions with cancer, tiredness. Threatening to impair patients’ physical and psychological well-being, overwhelming fatigue experienced during cancer, even during recovery, has the potential to reduce the impact of their therapy and significantly decrease their quality of life.

"Cancer related fatigue is not easy to treat," says Vonk. "Doctors are well trained to treat the cancer itself and there are therapies for the more tangible side effects such as nausea and pain. But tiredness is not so easy to tackle and is complex and ongoing. Many patients are often reluctant to discuss this with their physician, as there is limited time and generally, the advice given cannot address the issue adequately.  It’s a massive problem."

To help as many people as possible, they decided to develop an app, a pioneering move at the time, to deliver a stepwise approach with a programme for both body and mind to deal with the stress of the cancer and how to track progress weekly.

The Untire app incorporates evidence-based practices and theories from cognitive behaviour therapy and positive psychology. "We also developed the programme with constant patient feedback, visiting hospitals and patient groups with their doctors and nurses, and made adjustments where necessary."

Business coaching an essential part of the development

A major part of the evolution of the business was advice. "An essential part of the package with funding through the Horizon 2020 SME instrument was business coaching undertaken by Enterprise Europe Network," explains Vonk.

Mylène Hoogendijk–Mesters, a key accounts manager with the Network, remembers their introduction to Tired of Cancer. "I met the founders at their offices in early January 2017 and described our Network services covering the business coaching and international partner search, what to do with financial and legal questions, as well as providing help with intellectual property rights (IPR) questions they would have."

Right from the start of their business relationship, Hoogendijk-Mesters invited colleagues in the field of life sciences and health, including the Health National Contact Point to help their development.

Solid foundations and expert guidance

Vonk compares developing an app with building a house. "As well as a good idea, you need a strong design and a solid foundation. Then you need to think about how the ‘house’ is going to look from the inside (the app software) and outside, the user or patient interface."

The Enterprise  Europe Network represents the cement that holds the house together. "The Enterprise  Europe Network is very valuable to companies starting up as you need continual support and I can ring them anytime and ask them a question on legal matters, business growth and attracting staff in different countries for example," says Vonk. "We now have a very strong and diverse development team - 12 in total - comprising developers, marketing staff, patient liaison and more."

The future of healthcare, digital personalisation

Vonk tells us that since its launch in 2018, Untire is now used by 38 000 people across the globe. "Now Untire is here, we are aware of just how well we fit into the world of digital healthcare. Our next steps are to personalise the app based on the input of the user and a new beta version of the app will be released in early 2023," she says.

Although this is without doubt a success story, there is still a lot of work to be done. "Reimbursement from the health system is vital for our sustainable future and we are working on that in various countries throughout Europe," Vonk tells us. "And we are planning to expand into other diseases that fit into other markets and see the app improve the health and lives of, for example, long COVID patients."

Wrapping up, Hoogendijk-Mesters says: "This is a perfect example of a client journey - to help Tired of Cancer innovate and grow internationally with our services and expertise," she concludes.