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At Leo, making a patient-centered philosophy more than a buzzword

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The psychological sensativity of skin conditions is a top concern that has driven Leo’s patient-centered approach, says John Koconis.
The psychological sensativity of skin conditions is a top concern that has driven Leo’s patient-centered approach, says John Koconis. - (AARON HOUSTON)

Almost everyone in medicine is proudly promoting their company is patient-centric. At Leo Pharma USA, it's woven into the corporate fabric.

Part of that is how patients have become more knowledgeable about different conditions, thanks to the Internet, said CEO John Koconis. But an equally important part is the company rising to meet the challenge of treating skin conditions, which often present a social stigma in addition to the disease itself.

“We want to get ahead of this,” Koconis said of the patient-centered philosophy. “The world is changing, and as a company — we are a 100-year-old company — we need to change with it.”

One unusual way it does so while handling the possible stigma of the conditions it treats: The company has a call center staffed by professional nurses, who make calls and respond to concerns of patients to guide them through their treatment.

Koconis said that's especially important, because drugs such as Picato, a gel that treats precancerous lesions, can sometimes result in blisters, redness and crusting. Upfront warnings to patients reduces panic, he said. Patients also seek guidance with Taclonex, Leo's psoriasis drug.

“It's a very debilitating disease, psycho-socially,” Koconis said. “If you have plaques on your face, the quality of life is horrible. Suicide rates are very high. A lot of times, they just want someone to talk to.”

The dialogue with nurses guides company strategy, because it provides a better sense of what its patients want, Koconis said. Leo expects to hire more nurses to enlarge its call center, building on what started out as a pilot program of four nurses.

“It's a big shift, because although patient-centricity is a big buzzword in this industry right now, Leo is really putting its money where its mouth is,” Koconis said.

There's also more money where its mouth is.

The company opened shop in Parsippany nearly four years ago with a management team of five employees. It now has 74 employed at its Morris County headquarters, plus about 240 scattered across the United States when counting sales force. Revenue has grown to $300 million, thanks to acquisitions of new product lines.

Leo is a privately held subsidiary of the Leo Foundation, a Danish business foundation formed in 1908 that expanded into the United States as a platform for new launches.

Koconis said being owned by a business foundation is beneficial because Leo can focus on patient relationships, and not on appeasing shareholders demanding immediate results.

“That really allows a long-term view on our portfolio as opposed to a short-term, quarterly driven public model that you may see in this industry,” Koconis said.

“With patient-centric programs, it's difficult to prove ROI. You have to believe that if you can address the needs of patients and tailor solutions to that — eventually that's going to be a business model the company can move forward with.”

Koconis said the company is building on its patient-centered initiatives through nurse-run outreach programs and though partnerships with patient organizations like the National Psoriasis Foundation. Leo representatives serve on the NPF's advisory board, creating a dialogue that Koconis said helps guide product development.

Catie Coman, vice president of marketing and communications of the National Psoriasis Foundation, said the Oregon-based nonprofit's work with Leo provides the company critical feedback, from managing day-to-day treatments to larger physical and mental effects of psoriases, which affects about 6 million Americans.

“Everyone we've worked with the company — from the support staff to the CEO — is willing to roll up his sleeves and get down to the business of helping people with psoriasis,” Coman said.

And the company knows the importance of business. It's moving forward with expansion plans, aiming to grow its pipeline, either through organic growth or acquisitions or collaborations. Leo Pharma in March announced a partnership with Virobay on developing an oral treatment for psoriasis. Clinical trials are underway.

“You put the patient in the center and you look at everything that touches this patient, whether it be pharmaceutical products, cosmetics, or dermaceuticals,” Koconis said. “We say Leo, at some point in time, wants to be present in all of these.”

E-mail to: tomz@njbiz.com
On Twitter: @biztzanki

Write to the Editorial Department at editorial@njbiz.com

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