Pharma needs a fresh perspective. As tech companies are getting into healthcare, they come with a built-in advantage: A different approach to solving problems. And, perhaps more importantly, a better understanding of how to successfully create products for the end user.
“Normally in pharma we only focus on the doctors, but the tech companies coming into the industry have a much better idea of what the end user really needs,” explains Kristian Hart-Hansen, CEO of the LEO Innovation Lab. “In order for us to stay in the game and ultimately become a provider, we need to go beyond medicine and engage the end user. But that means looking at things in a totally different way.”
And that is the goal of the LEO Innovation Lab, which operates independently from LEO Pharma, as they work on solutions to help improve the lives of people living with chronic skin diseases. Their solutions do not link to any specific medications. The focus is solely to address patients’ pain points—and to go about solving problems similar to how a tech company might. That is why Hart-Hansen focused on hiring people with competencies outside of the industry, including roles typically found within tech companies, such as growth hackers and techno anthropologists.
“We needed people outside of pharma, so they could look at the industry with new eyes,” Hart-Hansen adds. “Sometimes it is good to be a little naïve, because when you tend to work on something for years, you see all the pitfalls instead of all the opportunities.”
Take Mischa Szpirt, for example, one of LEO Innovation Lab’s techno anthropologists. His role is just as it sounds: Getting a better understanding for how and why people use technology. It is an actual field of study that Szpirt took on at Aalborg University in Copenhagen.
Szpirt’s job is to gather user feedback as well as do something he calls “digital methods,” which he describes as a mix between new media studies and anthropology. Currently, he is examining the social sphere to gather insights that can help people with skin diseases. Unlike the approach some pharma companies take to social listening, Szpirt is conducting a heavy academic study of human sociological behavior online and then turning his results into a better understanding of users and patients.
For instance, one project in development: A platform that sells different kinds of skin products. Szpirt discovered a big demand for a more professional approach to selling skin products and makeup. It turns out many people don’t want to see beautiful pictures of people who use the product—they want the science behind it, including the ingredients, pH value, etc.
Imagine (getimagine.io), an app that allows users to take pictures of their skin diseases and track them over time, is another of LEO Innovation Lab’s products. However, Szpirt discovered some people are very reluctant to take pictures of their skin disease due to social stigma. So, together he and the developers worked to gain a deeper understanding of usage for the app.
“When we implement technology, you have to understand not just the product and how it affects the symptoms, but also the whole practice of actually using something,” Szpirt explains. “It’s a lot about your experience, your behavior, and your routines with the product.”
The Imagine project is currently harnessing its imaging data pipeline, which involves securely storing patient image data, to evaluate and analyze psoriasis images with a team of medical experts in order to develop an artificial intelligence capable of assisting with diagnostic insights.
Of course, developing a great product is not enough. You also need to promote it. And that is where growth hackers, like Isabelle Jacquinot, come in. While growth hackers are like marketers, their roles are larger and more intricate as their skill sets could also include data analysis, coding, and project development.
However, growth hackers aren’t taught, they are made. Jacquinot was not even a growth hacker before joining the LEO Innovation Lab. Her background was mostly in digital marketing, with past roles at LEGO and Disney, and a specialty in eCommerce. The only similarity between growth hackers is a non-linear career path. However, even though their skill sets may be different, it is ultimately their job to understand users and push the product forward. That is why a growth hacker’s job starts right at the beginning—before an idea for a product is even conceived.
“We try not to start with the solution right away because that was typically an error for us,” explains Jacquinot. “We would just decide to create an app or fix a particular issue, but now we are using insights, user needs, and user interviews to develop products that work for them.”
The advantage of this process: Speed. Growth hackers can swiftly move past failures as they work to find the right target audience and insight to build upon. In fact, Jacquinot says she could conduct more than 20 discovery campaigns in a week. But the other key: Talking with more naïve patients.
“Pharma companies often go to patient associations and talk with what we call a professional patient,” Hart-Hansen explains. “These patients are much more receptive, but they don’t represent the whole patient population. That is why we like to talk with the naïve patients who have never really thought too much about the process beyond just taking their medicine. We need to engage with them because they may have new insights.”
Once an idea has been discovered, prototyped, tested with patients, and deemed ready for market, growth hackers can once again show off their speed. For example, one of LEO Innovation Lab’s projects is PsoHappy (www.psohappy.org), a global index for psoriasis that measures the impact of the condition on patients’ happiness and well-being. Having growth hackers on board allowed LEO Innovation Lab to scale the app super-fast so that it was quickly adopted by an international audience across a range of different countries.
But once the product is out in the market, the job is still far from done.
“Building an app is the easy part,” Hart-Hansen says. “What is difficult—actually making the app work. It’s a matter of constantly changing the product in order to get patients to use it for a longer time. That doesn’t take months, but years. That is why it pays to take another lesson from tech companies: Building a strong company culture—because you want the same people around who developed the app, working on it and making sure it sticks.”