Leo Pharma mounts $70M push into digital health technology

Leo Pharma has placed a $70 million bet on the biopharma companies of the future providing more than just pharmacological interventions. The bet takes the form of the Leo Innovation Lab, a site at which the drugmaker will research how apps, web platforms, wearables, virtual reality, artificial intelligence and telemedicine can improve the lives of people with psoriasis.

Copenhagen, Denmark-based Leo Pharma has picked Toronto, Canada, as the location of the digital research hub. At the site, researchers will probe the potential for nonpharmacological interventions to play a role in the care of psoriasis, a disease that is a severe burden for many of the estimated 125 million it affects around the world. Leo Pharma is already involved with developing drugs to treat the disease, but has reached the conclusion that this approach to care can currently only do so much for patients living with psoriasis.

Having coughed up CA$100 million ($71 million) for the venture and opted against making the unit try to turn a profit, Leo Pharma thinks the venture is positioned to help psoriasis patients in ways the rest of its business cannot. The team behind the initiative talk in a voice more reminiscent of tech startups than 100-year-old European pharma companies. "We're turning to the digital space and the startup community to help us hack new and creative solutions to help people better manage and deal with their condition," Miron Derchansky, head of the innovation lab, said in a statement.

The more-tech-than-biotech vibe carries through to the operating model of the unit. Leo Pharma is expecting the team to go from having an idea to beta testing the resulting product within 100 days, a timeframe that is far removed from those found in drug development. The unit will carry out these projects internally, while also financing external startups working in the field with investment and grant money from its VC fund.

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