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Embracing digital disruption in pharma

LEO Innovation Lab and some of its successes to date

Kristian Hart-HansenDigital and social media channels are ubiquitous and part of our everyday lives. This digital pervasion is driving change and the pharma industry must adapt to survive.

Video cameras, internet telecommunications, robotic telepresence and smartphones have resulted in individuals starting to control their own health treatments. Online channels and platforms have become the first stop for seeking information and tools to support the management of health conditions.

So, how does a large, complex, procedural-driven business like pharma move quickly, stay innovative and engage patients in this consumer-driven healthcare landscape?

One way is to set up an independent unit to create a smaller, more agile organisation where innovation can thrive. This is what we did at LEO Pharma.

As CEO of that independent unit, I believe we supplement the traditional model of offering medications by providing services and true holistic care. We can help people to become better equipped to cope with their diseases. However, we also face the challenges of wielding big data and health regulations.

The story to date

LEO Innovation Lab was established in 2015 as part of a long-term strategic decision to focus on patients’ needs. The Lab does not develop pharmaceutical products but offers a wide range of digital solutions focused on e-health and add-on devices.

By setting up the LEO Innovation Lab, LEO Pharma is not simply embracing the changes of digital, it is actively placing itself on the frontline of digital innovation in healthcare.

It means a large pharma company can be more agile. Solutions can be brought to market and tested faster, as we grow in short, optimised sprints - every project operates in a 100-day time frame from ideation to beta test.

Through its work in the LEO Innovation Lab, the whole company benefits from better patient communications through patient portals, apps and online communities. From the healthcare provider (HCP) perspective you can enhance, for example, the efficiency of the visit, diagnosis and disease management.

We can also envision vast improvements in diagnostics and adherence. An example of the former would be sensors that measure the time it takes to ingest a drug and send data to the HCP. The latter would be apps that help patients stay alerted with respect to their treatment.

Another important dimension is the collection of real-world data. As a pharma company, LEO’s contact points directly with users have historically been limited, but we can fill that gap with the insights we’re collecting in our digital work at the innovation Lab. This information can be applied in both R&D and sales.

The LEO Innovation Lab also has a flat management approach where everyone is an expert in their area and is able to focus on deliverables without several hierarchical layers, which means we have an accountable culture.

Furthermore, LEO Pharma is owned entirely by the LEO Foundation and has no shareholders so its profits are reinvested in developing new solutions to support the overall mission: to help individuals achieve healthy skin. This unique ownership structure has made it possible to establish LEO Innovation Lab with no profit requirements - just a goal of making a difference to people living with skin conditions.


Three digital developments have been successful because of the establishment of the Innovation Lab.

PsoHappy is a collaboration with The Happiness Research Institute. We have adopted methodologies inspired by the United Nations Happiness Report to explore the impact chronic skin conditions have on well-being. Last year, the project unveiled the world’s first study on happiness and psoriasis, revealing that those living with psoriasis in the UK are up to 24% less happy.

Imagine is a psoriasis tracking app, where users can document how the severity of a psoriasis lesion develops over time. Users are prompted to use the app to take a series of photos of a lesion and to record the level of discomfort each time the lesion is recorded. This documentation can then be used to shed light on the patient’s condition between contact points with the dermatologist.

HelloSkin is the number one online store for emollients, nutrition supplements, accessories and selected over-the-counter products for people living with psoriasis, eczema, acne and dry skin. The project uses scientific research to create transparency and provides guidance for users looking for the right product combination for their skin condition. Alongside selling products, it creates an environment of education and support tailored to the user’s skin condition. This tailored approach fulfils a user need that traditional over-the-counter vendors are currently not addressing. HelloSkin has had 15,000 orders to date and has experienced a 20% month-on-month growth rate in 2017.

All three digital developments have only been successful because of the distinct nature of the LEO Innovation Lab.


Our biggest challenge is to create solutions that really make a difference to people with skin conditions. We also have the same challenges that most companies have - to engage people in the long term at a reasonable cost.

But the major challenge for us - and for anyone else working with data - is to actually put big data to work. The data we are able to collect even at this point can help us improve treatments to the benefit of the patients. In the healthcare sector, there is a myriad of laws and regulations that make this much more difficult than in most other sectors. We need to solve the challenge of being personal and relevant in our offerings while still handling data in accordance with legislation.

Riding the wave of digital disruption

Digital disruption is a term that is used widely in business today. In the world of pharma and healthcare, what it really means is that the structure of our industry and the needs of our patients are now evolving at a much faster rate than they ever have before. The patient journey is changing and with it, the role of the doctor.

People are now gravitating towards a preference for digital relationships with their doctors - it’s more convenient and aligns with the culture of instant gratification that we’re becoming accustomed to. Digital innovation in healthcare is creating more opportunities for patients to drive their own clinical journey, as opposed to revolving around the doctor. This will eventually have broader implications for the world of pharma and healthcare, as we may have to reconsider how we take our products to market.

Digital is changing the face of the earth in almost all areas. It has the potential to enhance and extend many facets of healthcare, in particular, our ability to diagnose, and the possibilities of creating truly holistic care and of course a generation of usable real-world data.

What it won’t change is the need for continued innovation of efficient and efficacious drugs. It may, in fact, increase the need as digital will certainly change the way we can use drugs through individual, targeted healthcare. To us, being able to integrate digital in the way we approach the patient is most certainly crucial to our future success.

Article by
Kristian Hart-Hansen

CEO of LEO Innovation Lab

6th July 2017

From: Marketing



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