“Business as unusual” as LEO Pharma opens up its R&D process

“Business as unusual” as LEO Pharma opens up its R&D process

Ulrika Mann

Ulrika Mann,

How do you engage with new competence and capacity outside company walls, without risking your own business? Learn how LEO Pharma successfully opened up parts of its research for external collaboration to pave the way for drug innovation at speed. The secret? Trust, respect and engagement, with no strings attached; you simply can’t push a “big brother attitude” on true collaborations.

With more than 100 years of experience with drug development and discovery, LEO Pharma and its 5,000 people strong team take the drugs all the way from research to registration. More than 700 scientists and specialists globally work within research and development to develop new treatments.

As an extremely customer and patient focused business, LEO Pharma face the same cost efficiency dilemma as the overall industry: innovation demands are high, more and more is spent on research, but the outcome doesn’t always match the investment.

“We started to ask ourselves how we could get people outside the organization to work with our innovation”, says Niclas Nilsson, Head of Open Innovation, Research, LEO Pharma. 

Initially a trained researcher, Niclas had realized that status quo wasn’t an option any longer; the R&D heavy company needed to do things differently. To boost innovation, two pioneering initiatives that targeted capacity and capability were launched:

  • LEO Innovation Lab
    Established in 2015 as LEO Pharma’s separate innovation unit. It has a holistic, non-pharmaceutical approach focusing on the needs of the patients beyond pills and regular treatments. With satellites in Denmark, France, UK, US and Canada, LEO Innovation Lab develops apps, digital platforms and other initiatives to support people with skin diseases in areas such as diet and nutrition, health, fitness, dialogue with doctors and mental health.
  • LEO Open Innovation
    Embedded in the organization, this is a platform for exploring opportunities for drug discovery with external partners. It allows partners to submit compounds for testing in the unique open access research tools at LEO Pharma’s laboratories. All the data generated by testing the partner’s compounds, is reported to the partner. Promising results can lead to a collaboration or a business partnership. 

How did LEO Pharma overcome the traditional barrier between an internal R&D process and external science? A key to achieve engagement was to remove the common obstacles, such as the regular business obligations. Instead, the process is based on mutual benefits: it’s transparent, the partners owns the data, and they can walk away any time. This model allows and boosts explorative collaborations, but once clear business benefits are identified, a standard business model can be applied.

“It’s a huge transformation, and we’re probably the only one in the pharma industry who are working like this”, says Niclas Nilsson. “By moving the existing wall in the process and exposing parts of our R&D process to invited researchers, we now encourage engagement from biotechs, professors, academia, students – all those smart people we need to source to drive innovation.” 

What’s so great about open innovation then? Thanks to the extended ecosystem, LEO Pharma can evaluate more opportunities with its external, relevant volunteers – and all this to a low cost and a low risk. No wonder that Niclas Nilsson wants to continue on the open innovation path:

“We’re now also building an AI driven virtual lab to simulate what we’re doing in the physical lab, to further make people engage in science and drive our research based on external digital engagement.”

Want to learn more about how to scale up innovation initiatives? Watch the video from Snapshot Breakfast – How to Deliver at Scale