Integrating patient insight into the business is a key element of LEO Pharma president and CEO Gitte Aabo's approach to helping people achieve healthy skin

What is your current role?  

I'm CEO and president of LEO Pharma, a global healthcare company dedicated to helping people achieve healthy skin. We are owned by a foundation and have no external shareholders. My most important task is to pass on a stronger company to the next generation, so LEO can be even better at helping more patients in the future.

What is your background?  

My background is in finance and economics. I began my career in LEO more than 20 years ago. Since then, I have worked in many roles within finance and senior/executive management.

How do you start your day?  

Like most other people I like to start my day with a cup of coffee and a hot shower but what really gets me out of bed is a burning desire to help people with skin diseases live a better life.

What are your biggest challenges? 

Our biggest challenge and opportunity right now is to enhance our understanding of patient needs and translate them into new business models that bring value to patients as well as to stakeholders in the value chain.

As an example, we recognise that better health outcomes benefit all stakeholders; patients can better manage their disease, payers gain more value from the medicine they pay for, dermatologists have more satisfied patients and we can grow as a healthcare company – in turn enabling us to pursue more opportunities to innovate for the benefit of patients.

What are your current goals? 

By 2020, we want to help more than 100 million people and we want to help them by providing better care. LEO has come a long way in recent years, expanding our treatment offering and growing as a company. Today, we are present in five skin disease areas and have a global presence, but we know that we only help a fraction of the people that we could. We want to deliver better care by expanding our treatment portfolio even further through internal innovation and external partnering. A recent example is our acquisition of Astellas' global dermatology portfolio, which will enable us to help around 25 million more people and significantly strengthen our position in therapeutic areas such acne and eczema.

Another way we are enhancing our treatment offering is with a focus on convenience, in addition to efficacy and safety. By listening to people with skin diseases we know that convenience is important – making a topical treatment for psoriasis easy to apply and absorb, for example. Our psoriasis treatments Enstilar and Daivobet gel Applicator were developed with patients' real-life needs in mind.

We will continue to go 'beyond products' by providing solutions such as our patient support service QualityCare, which empower people to better manage their disease.

What industry issues are affecting you right now? 

Our industry still has a poor reputation, despite many efforts to be patient-focused. At the same time, the healthcare landscape is becoming increasingly complex. These factors call for a focus on building trusted relations with the many stakeholders around the patient.

The shift towards delivering care solutions that offer convenience, and thereby supporting patients to achieve better adherence and health outcomes, requires a new perspective from payers. Innovations that can increase adherence are often considered as incremental innovation by health technology assessment bodies and payers. Nevertheless, the FDA and EMA have increased their focus on patient-reported outcomes, and we welcome this new approach. For example, itch plays a major role in many skin diseases, so we would like to see defined and agreed ways of measuring it. At LEO, we include patient reported outcomes in all our clinical trials in order to better reflect the perspective of the patient.

The e-health space and big data present important opportunities for the pharma industry to help patients. Some of the data gathered through these new technologies can potentially be used to support early diagnosis through prediction models based on internet behaviour and search patterns. Digitalisation presents a new opportunity to help patients but also demands that the industry prepares for the next frontier in data protection.

We established LEO Innovation Lab precisely with e-health in mind; an innovation unit that develops digital solutions to help people with psoriasis. The Lab recently launched Alba's Post, a nutritional online database that offers people living with psoriasis a place to learn together and share experience on specific diets, ingredients and nutrients. The platform also conducts surveys to map the personal experiences that people living with psoriasis have with specific diets, foods, beverages or nutrients and how these affect their psoriasis. By addressing the foods most Googled in connection with psoriasis, we can address some of the dietary components that people with psoriasis want to know more about and, therefore, use health data to improve our offering to patients.

What do you see in the future for LEO and the industry? 

The future of pharma lies in becoming even better at integrating patient insights into the business. This is the key to meeting patient needs. In addition to delivering efficacious, safe and convenient treatments, a big part of this journey will be understanding the opportunities in the digital space. I expect to see new players such as Google and Apple entering the health sector.

Our future as an industry also lies in partnerships and I expect to see more of these. Patient-centricity is not just about focusing on patients but on the many stakeholders around the patient. At the end of the day, we all share the same goal of improving people's lives.

What have been the most important lessons during your career?  

Be humble and do your best. It's not about what you can deliver as an individual – great performance requires a great team. You should always be prepared to revisit a decision – even when it was your own idea.

Have you ever been given any good advice that you can pass on? 

One piece of good advice that stands out for me came from our former chairman, Poul Rasmussen. He lived by the philosophy that in order to survive, we must change – as illustrated in this quote by Winston Churchill: 'To improve is to change. To be perfect is to change often.' With a strong desire to help many more patients, LEO Pharma will continue to change, grow and develop. And as CEO, it's important to keep in mind that change is not something you do to others – in order to bring about change in organisation, I must begin by changing my own behaviour.