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AAU techno-anthropologist innovates at LEO Pharma

AAU techno-anthropologist innovates at LEO Pharma

The pharmaceutical company LEO Pharma has realised the potential in bringing anthropologists and techno-anthropologists on board with the usual synthetic chemists, doctors and molecular biologists

Last modified: 12.02.2020

Among the synthetic chemists, doctors and microbiologists at LEO Pharma, you can also find several anthropologists. One of them is Mischa Szpirt, techno-anthropologist at Aalborg University.

LEO Pharma is on a journey pioneering new ways of treating skin diseases. On that journey, anthropologists are important members of the team trying to understand what patients and doctors really need.

As pioneers, LEO Pharma use "insight-driven innovation" which essentially means the company tries to understand the patient and the world around the patient in order to design solutions that meet the patient's actual needs.
− Anthropologists are good at observing what everyday life looks like to patients in the real world or doctors in our clinical studies.

We can use their observations to change the design of our services so that they work better for the end user, says Helle Bunkenborg, Director of R&D Innovation &Transformation, LEO Pharma.

For LEO Pharma, insight driven innovation specifically entails first doing a comprehensive study of patients' perception and use of one of their products, and then designing the next generation of the product.

One example is the psoriasis drug Enstilar®. In the past, LEO Pharma produced the drug as a cream, but after anthropologists along with other colleagues provided the company with a better understanding of patients’ use of the drug, LEO Pharma changed the design.Today, Enstilar® is more like a hair mousse that is easier to apply, less greasy than cream, and dries faster. The new design of the psoriasis remedy earned LEO Pharma an innovation award.


One of the anthropologists employed by LEO Pharma is techno-anthropologist Mischa Szpirt of Aalborg University.

Mischa Szpirt was first hired by LEO Pharma's Innovation Lab to examine how patients use the technological solutions that LEO Innovation Lab develops.

Along with techno-anthropologist Nikolaj Frøsig, Mischa Szpirt discovered via social media mapping that people with skin diseases were more interested in the chemical ingredients and pH values in skincare products than in seeing beautiful people with perfect skin using the products.

The finding had a direct impact on the way the Leo Innovation Lab project HelloSkin presented their skincare products. LEO Innovation Lab also developed an app that patients with psoriasis and eczema can use to monitor the development of their skin disease. But user interviews showed that not everyone with skin diseases was equally enthusiastic about taking pictures of their skin.

− When we implement a new technology, not only do we need to understand the product, but also how people use it. It’s about the end user's experience, behaviour and routines with the product, Mischa Szpirt explains.


At LEO Pharma, the commitment to using anthropologists like Mischa Szpirt is very much about creating a better customer experience, but not exclusively. In the end, it is also about time and money. Helle Bunkenborg says that it is not just about LEO Pharma making more money by understanding the patient and their ecosystem better than its competitors; it’s also about spending money on the development of new products more sensibly.

− When you manufacture drugs, there's a lot of money at stake. One of the things that anthropologists – along with the many colleagues who are experts in conducting clinical studies – can help us with is optimising our solutions for clinical studies so that the solutions create as few problems as possible for clinicians. Regardless of what industry you’re in, you have to understand the reality your solutions will be used in, and understand it better than your competitors in order to gain an advantage, says Helle Bunkenborg.

LEO Pharma began employing anthropologists five years ago. It started with the goal of better understanding patient experience with the products the company makes.

− Now, anthropologists are an integral part of our core business and are thus involved in the entire development of new products from clinical development until the effect om the end-user. This took hold once we saw the value that anthropologists add to the business, she says.



LEO Pharma is a Danish pharmaceutical company founded in 1908. The pharmaceutical company is headquartered in Ballerup with product sales in more than 130 countries.
LEO Pharma focuses primarily on medications for skin diseases such as psoriasis and eczema, as well as venous blood clots. In 1945, the Danish company was the first pharmaceutical company outside the US and the UK to produce penicillin.
LEO Pharma has over 6,000 employees worldwide, with 2,000 employed in Denmark.