Find out how a global biopharmaceutical company asked the Wazoku Crowd for ideas around a new single-dose version of COVID-19 vaccinations.

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Debiopharm, a Swiss-based global biopharmaceutical company used an open innovation Challenge through Wazoku to find a single-dose version of a COVID-19 vaccination. Identifying vaccinations that give the same protection in one shot will simplify vaccination processes.

This collaborative approach is a key part of Debiopharm’s business model, finding ways to leverage the world as a laboratory of innovation. The Challenge was launched on InnoCentive, Wazoku’s previous home for open innovation, to participants all over the world from many different backgrounds, industries, and cultures.

“Over our 40+ years’ experience, we have learned that collaboration is key to finding novel solutions to unmet medical needs. We are proud that the pool of international innovators from the Wazoku network have given fresh insights to help us in developing more simplified vaccine solutions.”

// Bertrand Ducrey
CEO of Debiopharm

What is a Theoretical Challenge?


This was run as a Theoretical Challenge, meaning that the Solvers needed to send in a full written proposal with some level of development to be considered. A solution to a Theoretical Challenge is more than an idea but not quite a proof of concept: there should be a concept with detailed descriptions, specifications, and requirements. These criteria are necessary to bring a good idea closer to becoming an actual product or service.

Currently approved COVID-19 vaccines based on messenger RNA (mRNA) technology require two injections, at several week intervals, for optimal protection against the virus. These multi-dose formulations mean that the first vaccination doesn’t give full protection. Finding a single shot version of a COVID-19 vaccination can help alleviate supply issues and improve the speed at which a recipient is protected.

How do vaccines work?

Vaccines offer protection by training the immune system to recognize pathogens, such as viruses. Unlike traditional vector vaccines that are based upon modified forms of a live virus, mRNA vaccines contain instructions that allow the host cell to produce and display a harmless spike protein on its surface, which causes the body’s immune system to send an antibody response. The mRNA is then degraded after the protein is expressed and there is less risk for a slight infection, as opposed to the potential case with an attenuated vaccine.

The mRNA COVID-19 vaccines must be stored at low temperatures due to limited stability and two doses are administered to first prime and then boost the immune system. Having vaccines that are single-dose helps to avoid storage times, risk of instability, and overall to stabilize the vaccine delivery.


Solvers engaged


doses weeks apart to a one-time vaccination


Solutions submitted


Fully evaluated with 2 winners


Specialized in the manufacturing and development of oncology and antibiotic therapies, Debiopharm is a world leader in biopharmaceuticals, including the development of long-lasting formulations that allow for gradual dissolution and distribution of peptides and small molecules. Balancing between disruptive discovery products and real-world patient reach, Debiopharm identifies high-potential treatments and technologies for in-licensing, demonstrates their clinical safety and effectiveness, and then selects pharmaceutical commercialization partners to maximize patient access globally.

“Using open innovation in this case provided us with interesting avenues to explore. In the last months, our team won a company award for most innovative project as a result of this work with Wazoku”

// Frederic Levy
Head of Search & Evaluation and Scientific Innovation - Debiopharm

The solution and the role of Wazoku

Debiopharm could easily access a wealth of solutions provided by the Wazoku Crowd. Solvers’ written proposals were submitted, sorted, and evaluated on the platform – meaning the evaluation teams had a straightforward process to prioritize their chosen solution.

One solution helped to stabilize the process, meaning the vaccinations could be stored closer to 0°C (instead of -80 or -20°C). The other was supported by biological evidence of improved transfection, the process of introducing nucleic acids into cells through nonviral methods, of RNA.

The winning Solvers were awarded the full award fund of $40,000 USD, and their solutions were tested and developed further by Debiopharm.

Internal team award for this research

The team responsible for this open innovation Challenge at Debiopharm entered an internal company award about the most innovative activities of employees in the last year. They put forward their experience of tapping into a crowd of always-on problem solvers through Wazoku, and won the company award – receiving acclaim for their methods to bring Debiopharm new research areas.


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