AstraZeneca x Osaka Innovation Hub
Konica Minolta

Konica Minolta x AZ
Explore New Solurtion for Prostate Cncer Postoperative Patients

Saving Prostate Cancer Postoperative Patients from Concerns about Urine Odor - Exploring New Solution from Patient-Centric Approach

One out of every two Japanese people is said to experience cancer. It is how common the disease is to us. Among different types of cancers, prostate cancer is the leading cancer in Japanese men. While several treatment options are available, some patients who have had surgery experience urinary incontinence. *1

Assuming that there are patients troubled by urinary incontinence and urine odor, AstraZeneca jointly initiated a project to free them from their concerns and deliver a new solution with Konica Minolta, Inc. (Konica Minolta) which owns the world’s first odor detection technology.

We spoke with Hiroshi Akiyama, Incubation Lead, Konica Minolta Business Innovation Center Japan (BIC-Japan), and Lei Liu, Director, i2.JP, AstraZeneca about their efforts.


  • A PoC to validate possibilities for better QoL and fewer concerns about urine odor among postoperative prostate cancer patients using “Kunkun body”, a product that can measure and visualize individual odors based on its odor detection technology
  • About 60% of patients experience appearance-related changes over cancer treatment, and about 40% experience negative impact on their daily lives due to those changes*2.
  • An assumption is made that prostate cancer patients experience a diverse range of impact in their lives following treatments, and not a few patients are worried about “urine odor leaking out” due to incontinence.
  • Many postoperative prostate cancer patients were worried about urinary incontinence/odor leaking, but many women also reported similar concerns.
  • Chances were low that urinary incontinence led to leaking of urine odor, which in itself made it difficult to identify a solution.
  • Urinary incontinent people have fears about odor leaking and there was a definite need to dispel these fears.

Aiming to dispel fears about invisible odor with odor detection technology

――First of all, can you give us an overview of the project and how AstraZeneca and Konica Minolta worked together?

Lei Liu (Liu):We worked with Konica Minolta on a PoC that aims to improve QoL of postoperative urinary incontinent prostate cancer patients by reducing their anxieties about "urine odor leaking”.

――What was the background behind this project?

Liu :AstraZeneca, in a bid to practice patient centricity, regularly holds internal cross-functional workshops by our disease area where patient journeys are drawn to identify their pain points. In early 2020, our Medical team took the lead in organizing workshops to help us gain better understanding of patients affected by various cancers.

In the process, I had the opportunity to learn in depth about the changes patients undergo as a result of cancer treatment. I was reminded that QoL is significantly impacted after treatment, as patients are no longer able to lead the lives as they did before.

In fact, a previous study*2 shows that cancer treatment caused appearance-related changes in about 60% of people, and 40% of them felt negative impact of those changes in their daily lives.

In the workshop, pain points were identified for each disease. And I learned for the first time that some prostate cancer patients develop urinary incontinence after surgery.

Prevalence of prostate cancer is about 90,000 annually*3 and about 20,000 undergo surgery in Japan. An estimate in an investigation suggests that about 15,000 people develop symptoms of incontinence within 3 months of surgery, and about 1,000 people may be consistently suffering from the symptoms of urinary incontinence*1.

In fact, there was a person close to me who suffered from urinary incontinence and was concerned about urine odor leaking caused by the condition. We started exploring solutions that can address the pain point of these people and kicked off this PoC.

Our search after search ended with Konica Minolta's "Kunkun body”.

——What kind of product is "Kunkun body"?

Hiroshi Akiyama (Akiyama): “Kunkun body" uses a dedicated app and can easily measure odors and visually present the type and intensity of odors with AI and sensor. When "Kunkun body" is placed near a source of the body odor, it can measure sweat odor as well as a distinct oily odor of the middle-aged people and age-related odor, just as measuring your weight and body temperature.

"Kunkun body" was rolled out in 2018. While our B2C services were discontinued at the end of September 2022, we continue to offer B2B services called “Kunkun X” to seek R&D and business development opportunities in the odor detection space.

——What was your impression when AstraZeneca reached out to you?

Akiyama:As you all know, human odors such as body odor and bad breath can be a sign of various diseases. For example, diabetes is said to be tied to an acetone odor, and kidney disease is said to cause a smell resembling ammonia.

“Kunkun body" was launched as a personal grooming product for etiquette, but we were looking to expand its application to the medical field for checking health conditions, for example.

We had this concept in mind when we were approached, and our Business Innovation Center (BIC) operates on the philosophy of developing new businesses based on “customer needs".

The desire to solve patients' problems was in close alignment with our philosophy, so we immediately started the project.

Desire to be free from odor-related worries - not just for post-surgery prostate cancer patients

――How did you proceed with the project?

Liu:We thought that incontinent people having concerns about urine odor might be able to detect the odor with the sensor within “Kunkun body" so they can rest assured about their problems. Based on this hypothesis, we proceeded with the project by first conducting market research and then experiments.

We contributed each other’s expertise in our roles. AstraZeneca provided medical knowledge and conducted patient surveys. The starting point was to identify the patient pain points and degree of their troubles.

After validating the potential and benefits through the patient surveys, we handed over to Konica Minolta for device prototyping and urine odor detection experiments.

――Could you first tell us about the patient surveys? What type of research was conducted?

Liu:The purpose of the patient surveys was to make an initial determination as to whether this project could meet the needs of the patients.

We conducted 1-on-1 interviews with ten urinary incontinent people, selecting those who actually have experienced odor problems due to incontinence, those who do not have experienced so much of odor problems but are concerned about the odor, and those who would be interested in using a urine odor detector if one were available.

Akiyama:We interviewed them to understand their psychological needs in addition to their individual backgrounds, lifestyles, incontinent-related experiences, and pain points. Moreover, what functions they would like to see in a urine odor detector was identified with a view to developing a prototype.

We assumed that it would be difficult to put the "Kunkun body" into practical use as it is, so we had questions included to identify must-have functionalities, unnecessary functions, and suggestions for improvement.

Liu:In fact, it is not only postoperative prostate cancer patients who suffer from urinary incontinence. It is known that other population segments such as women also have urinary incontinence*4.

Therefore, we asked seven postoperative prostate cancer patients and three women to share their true voices. We wanted to see how the market might expand in the future and how physical differences between men and women as well as presence and absence of diseases might impact the outcome.

――Could you tell us in detail what you heard from them?

Liu:First of all, we observed two main patterns of postoperative prostate cancer patients that are driven by differences in lifestyle.

Those who are already retired and spend most of their time at home virtually feel no need for urine odor detection even when they have bladder control issues.

On the other hand, those who still have an active social life with many outing opportunities often reported that they would check for signs of leakage frequently at a restroom while they are out.
Some of them were concerned that the act of frequently going to the restroom might cause a nuisance to others.

With women interviewees, there was a memorable story about a woman who works in an office.
She is always worried about urine leaks, especially during the winter months she feels very anxious about it.
She wears a half-sized blanket to keep her lower legs warm. When she gets up from her seat and removes her blanket, she is worried if the smell of urine contained under the blanket may waft through the room.
She also mentioned that she could not confidently and objectively determine how offending her odor is.

――So, she lives with the fear of urine odor.

Liu:Yes. Others shared their pain points about urinary incontinence - concerns about potential and actual leaking of urine odor. The conclusion of the surveys was that there were pain points about urinary continence regardless of sex or presence or absence of a disease.

Another finding was that it was difficult for them to notice urine leaks and initiate measurement of urine odor. In fact, many of them were "unaware” that they were not in control of urination.

Such feedback in the surveys highlighted a need for continuous monitoring in order to help them feel safer.

――What functional needs were there?

Akiyama:Because we already had an actual "Kunkun body" we were able to receive a variety of feedback about the device.

For example, a compact model to make measuring discreet and a model with shortest monitoring time were among the feedback we passed onto the product development team.

Some of the feedback were beyond the imagination of the developer team.

Our initial assumption was that it would be good if we could measure the odor level on roughly three levels, like large, medium, and small. But the real issue was how disruptive the odor is in their relationships with others, as stated by one respondent, “I want to know how I am seen by other people”. We realized the importance of feeling safe in their relationships.

Experiments produced an unexpected result - Urine odor was not leaking

――Based on the feedback collected, you conducted a urine odor detection experiment. How was the result?

Akiyama:Actually, we had a surprise in the experiment. That is, there was very little leakage of urine odor.

――What do you mean?

Akiyama:Basically, people suffering from urinary incontinence wear diapers or pads and pants or skirts over them. In the experiment, we tested if we could measure urine odor, simulating the patients’ ordinary living conditions. Surprisingly, the urine odor did not spread outside.

This is because the performance of diapers and pads has been improving rapidly in recent years. The materials and deodorant functions worked effectively so that we could hardly detect any urine odor.

Of course, above a certain threshold, the urinary discharge will result in odor leakage, but such situations are very rare. In an experiment replicating the environment the interviewees were concerned about, we found no urine odor leaking out.

――I see. Although incontinence sufferers are very concerned about leaking of urine odor, in reality, it is very likely that the odor is locked away.

Akiyama:That is correct. In light of the result of the experiments, we went back and watched the interviews again. Although there was a definite need to gauge urine odor due to their worries, there were almost no instances in which people around the patients actually pointed out the smell of urine in likely situations.

Connecting the insights and result of the experiments, the most likely scenario was that urine odor was not leaking out.

Both parties discussed once again based on the findings.

Continuous monitoring and trace detection may be possible with a sensor. But odors are detected at different levels between the sensors located near the patients and people around them. It is very difficult to adjust the right detection point to address the needs of the interviewees.

At that time, we concluded that it would be difficult to build a solution using the odor detection technology.

Liu:With the project status being the way it was, a launched product would have been a mere good luck charm to users, rather than a device that can provide peace of mind via odor measurement.

Patient’s true problems would have remained unresolved with the talisman-like product. Therefore, this project was closed for the time being after completing patient pain point identification.

Challenge will continue to closely track issues and needs of patients

――How do you feel when you look back on this project?

Liu:In the hindsight of the patient journey, our hypothesis of using an odor sensor to detect urine odor and relieve anxiety should have been with an extra twist.

But I am very glad to have proceeded with this project: These findings are only available with the combination of market research and technical studies.

We are internally sharing the patient feedback and results of the project with Marketing and Medical teams and other related parties. They request that we continue our work with new challenges.

In addition, i2.JP is discussing the possibility of collaborating with manufacturers of daily necessities such as diapers and incontinence pads based on the lessons learned from this project. We are also considering other approaches, such as reaching out to an overseas startup that is developing diapers with a built-in urine leakage sensor.

Akiyama:This was our very first approach to tackle urine odor. Through the market research and experiments, we learned characteristics and problems associated with urine. Now that we gained valuable insights, we hope to apply them in other fields.

For example, we received requests from nursing homes that they would want timely diaper changes through urine odor detection. We plan to go down new paths where the needs of the world and the technology we can provide will have a good match.

――Patients’ paint point identification is surely leading to next steps.

Akiyama:Yes. After participating in the project, I also realized it is quite meaningful to work with people having different specialties.

We are good at technology and development, but we have no knowledge of medical industry and are not familiar with the psychology and pains of patients. We are glad to be partner to AstraZeneca for innovation.

Liu:It is the same for us. It is reassuring to have a partner with another area of expertise, immediately available for consultation. It is challenging for us to conduct or even consider a medical device project by ourselves.

Konica Minolta is also a medical device manufacturer. In fact, we had consulted with them many times outside of this project. I hope the connections we have made this time will lead to new challenges.

We look forward to continuing to work together to examine solutions that may contribute to the needs of patients.

Akiyama:Yes, I agree. Opportunities are rare where you can find a place to build ideas from ground up and discuss collaboratively with experts from different fields. Bringing together diverse knowledge helps broaden ideas, and new paths can be found, so I would like to continue to take on the challenge of innovation.

i2.JP offers opportunities for business matching and discussions. If you are a company or organization with the commitment to having dialogue to chart a course toward patient centricity, please visit i2.JP. please contact us.

神谷 渉三(Shouzou Kamiya)
Hiroshi Akiyama
Innovation Lead, Business Innovation Center Japan (BIC-Japan), Konica Minolta, Inc.

After working for a major semiconductor manufacturer in a wide range of roles including product planning, business strategy development, and customer promotion activities, he joined BIC, Konica Minolta's new business development organization. Project Leader/ developer-in-chief/ originator of the "Kunkun body

細田 征一(Seiichi Hosoda)
Liu, Lei
Innovation Partnerships & i2.JP Director, AstraZeneca K.K.

After working in medical device R&D at GE Healthcare Japan, he worked for a consulting firm, startups, and life insurance company before joining AstraZeneca. Leading Innovation Infusion Japan (i2.JP), an open innovation network

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