Gone Today, Hair Tomorrow—Follica Raises Funds to Begin Human Trial of Baldness Treatment

1/4/08Follow @bbuderi

Call it a hair-raising event. Follica, a Boston startup out to develop novel ways of treating and even curing baldness and other hair-follicle disorders, today announced it had completed a $5.5 million Series A financing round. The round was led by Interwest Partners of Dallas and Menlo Park, CA, and joined by founding investor PureTech Ventures, in whose offices Follica is currently housed.

Follica was founded in late 2006 by PureTech and a group of leading academics who include Harvard Medical School dermatologist Rox Anderson, University of Pennsylvania stem cell biologist George Cotsarelis, and Vera Price, director of the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) Hair Research Center. Its primary initial focus is an extremely common form of hair loss called androgenic alopecia—aka male pattern baldness or female pattern baldness.

Follica has targeted a, shall we say, growth industry. According to PureTech’s website, treatments for conditions of the follicle—chief among them hair loss, acne, and pigmentation issues—represent a $10 billion-plus annual market. It’s all part of the even broader category of “aesthetic medicine,” which also includes things like plastic surgery and many obesity treatments. And it is really in the recognition of the potential of aesthetic medicine that the, um, roots of Follica’s story lie.

Daphne Zohar, PureTech’s founder and managing partner (and an Xconomist), says the firm began thinking seriously about aesthetic medicine in early 2006. “There’s huge markets, and most of the technologies and things that are out there don’t come from real academic science,” she says. “A lot of them are this late-night infomercial type of thing.” But the market potential is undeniable, and it wasn’t lost on Zohar that people pay out of pocket for aesthetic treatments, meaning no health insurance reimbursement issues for manufacturers to contend with.

PureTech put together a team of expert advisors to begin looking at different aspects of aesthetic medicine. Their survey spanned everything from skin rejuvenation approaches to fat melting techniques, perhaps more than 100 different ideas in all, Zohar says. “As we were looking, we noticed the most interesting things had something to do with the follicle,” she says. “The follicle’s almost like the epicenter of human hair and skin.” If you can control the follicles and the sebaceous glands that are connected to each of them, you can theoretically create new hair, stop hair from growing, or even treat acne, Zohar says. “Whatever you do to the follicle is going to be beneficial to somebody,” she adds.

Armed with that realization, PureTech put together an even smaller group of follicle experts—Price, Anderson, and Cotsarelis formed the core of this contingent—to study possible research or technological approaches to follicular problems in more detail.

Then, one day, Cotsarelis told Zohar he was working on something in his lab that could be just what the doctor ordered. The Penn scientist was persuaded to bring that work to Follica, which eventually licensed Cotsarelis’s core research.

Cotsarelis, an expert in epithelial stem cells such as those found in the skin, was studying how skin heals and noticed that new hair follicles seemed to be forming in the middle of some of some wounds. He learned that when the skin’s top layers were removed, some cells within the wound revert to a more primitive state (what he calls an “embryonic window”) from which they can develop into either hair or skin. With more research, says Zohar, Cotsarelis found that he “could actually push them to one direction or another.” In a widely read Nature paper published last May, Cotsarelis showed for the first time that it’s possible to create new hair follicles in adult mammals—and to shut down hair growth. He could even grow thicker, darker hair.

Zohar says Follica has further developed this work and filed additional patents to protect the technology. What’s so beautiful about the approach, she says, is that translating it into a treatment for humans involves only devices and drugs that are already on the market. A doctor would first use a microdermabrasion tool, say, or a laser to remove the top layers of the skin—as is already commonly done in a number of dermatologic and cosmetic procedures—knocking some cells back into a primitive state. The doctor can then use this newly created therapeutic window to inject drugs that push the cells to develop along one pathway or another and grow hair or skin. Zohar won’t reveal what drugs Follica is using, except to say that they are small molecule drugs normally taken orally for purposes with no relation to hair growth.

Because the components of the system are already approved, the regulatory path is pretty straightforward, and Follica can perform human studies without jumping through a lot of governmental hoops. That’s exactly what the company plans to do with the money it has just raised. A proof of concept study involving 15 to 20 patients (Follica has no shortage of volunteers, as several hundred people sent in e-mails when word of Cotsarelis’s work reached the public) should begin in the next few months. The trial has several phases, however, and Zohar cautions that final data won’t be in for at least a year. So don’t pull your hair out waiting for results.

Bob is Xconomy's founder and editor in chief. You can e-mail him at bbuderi@xconomy.com, call him at 617.500.5926. Follow @bbuderi

By posting a comment, you agree to our terms and conditions.

  • KKwilliams

    Jordan…hope you are prepared for some serious heartbreak in two years then. Sorry to tell you.

  • JS

    KKwilliams….. Why should jordan be prepared for serious heartache, He’s basing his optimism on the information we have at hand now and so far Follica has done everything they said they would, They have even brought there second round of fundraising forward a couple of years according to daphne zohar so they can move along even faster.

    I realise there is always sceptisism when something new comes along but people have been trying a method similar to Follica’s at home and are getting results, Now if they can see new follicles forming without the scientific expertise that will be used in the treatment then why should anyone be preparing themselves for heartache.

  • A

    KKwilliams should stick to HLH forums because that is where the negative attitude comes from. Follica is looking like a winner so far and only people with wildly negative opinions are telling people that a result is 20 years away when more then likely its 3 – 5 years away AT most.

  • jordan

    this is the first time that science is involved and stupid amounts of money has been throw in. i agree with A, go back to HLH where all the fools who think they know it all post

  • KKwilliams

    I was unaware the degree of high caliber posters on here and that you all have some type of degree in hair science???

    If you had actually read my post and not done this tired b.s. response of all forum posters are idiots routine you would have seen I wrote that I think follica has a realistic chance of being a reality in 4-5 years.

    I stated WE ALL need to be prepared that it may be a lot longer…I just wrote 20 years as an example for Christs sake. I agree that this site is very informed along with a lot of its posters but if your fairytale time line( IMO) of 2 years turns in to 5 or longer years down the road. Or if follica completely falls off the map as many other well funded companies before it will/should this site not then be seen as just a bunch of naive guys grasping at straws?? Im not here to argue and only wrote this in response to these last few comments. I wish to get back on topic so lets stop the back and forth mud slinging.

    I still see 2 years as being highly hopeful and does not allow any time to tackle roadblocks that most likely will arise. I mean they stumbled upon this by accident and unless I am mistaken they do not even fully understand why or how the hair regrowth occurs let alone how to maximum growth etc etc etc..

  • JS

    KKwilliams….I’m not slinging mud at you i just think your wrong, And you are mistaken about them not understanding how the hair growth occurs, They have said that when the skin is wounded it can go in two different directions forming skin or follicles and by using the method they used they could not only grow new follicles but control the amount of new follicles created.

    As i said before there is absolutely nothing to be negative about with regards to Follica at the moment, They are going about things in the right way and even brought forward their fundraising to speed things up even more.

  • jordan

    isnt it true that the trails phase 1 is just 60days??

  • P

    Yup, that’s what I heard. Should hopefully mean they are pumping out trials every 2-3 months.

    I wish they had a blog on their website, even if it gave ZERO useful information, they could just have the doctors post things like, “working really hard!” so we all feel more in the mix you know.

    If any Follica people read this and think that is a good idea please try to push it. If you need help with the web development I will do it for free (I’m a professional web designer/programmer).

  • P

    Oh, and if you ARE interested, please email me at ergawer@yahoo.com

  • G

    IT IS NOT A TRIAL. Repeat this over and over!

    It’s just a “Research Study” to understand what happens to scalp after dermabrasion. They haven’t started any trials for the actual Follica procedure yet!

  • P

    But it is worth noting that results from Follica trials (when they start) could be seen much more quickly than something like Propecia that requires time (about a year) to see results.

    Follica it should be 1) Scrape 2) Slather on Jelly 3) See hair in a month or two.

  • Shooter

    I switched boards and missed all the fun… Here’s my take (for anyone interested). To me, whether Follica appears in 2 years or 5 doesn’t really make a difference. The only thing that matters is if it works effectively. We have been let down time and time again, so it will be no surprise if Follica does the same. I just want to know whether or not the procedure works (to the extent we need it to) and let the smart people at Follica bring it to market as quickly as they can. I hope we’re all wrong and it’s here tomorrow, but there is no such thing as optimism when it comes to hair loss solutions. :(

  • rev

    I concur with you wholeheartedly Shooter. I don’t mind waiting for an effective treatment as long there’s something actually worth waiting for.

    All these xconomy articles are great. Everything we dug up about Follica through research and press is great too, BUT we have yet to know the most important thing….

    HAVE THEY PROVED THEIR CONCEPT ON PEOPLE YET?

  • Pingback: News Archive » Follica raises $11mil, reveals secret 11 herbs and spices » Tressless

  • R

    Again………..This procedure and hair follicle formation was noted and known since the 1950′s. The difference is that today’s scientist and doctors are more apt to pursue these types of paths beyond the calloused approach by stoic practioners. Modern science is backing known biological process for more than fifty years. This is occuring not only in hair loss but in other bilogical / human processes and disease.

    I believe we have something here and remember that other businesses / scientific community members and lay-people are showing results with Follicas approach. Now….Histogen is duplicating Follica, Luna is using strong antioxidents. We are discovering that not only does propecia / minoxidal etc… work to some degree but many other substances.

    My comment is that we will find that the reason past attempts failed is because nobody trully made “Real” attempts to end this disease. They just put together half-ass chemicals and mass marketed the product. Unfortunately…..The Internet came along and now inferior products are washed away quickly. Where and who is using Revita???? This is the first real attempt to cure hairloss and now those that sat on the side lines have to shit or get off the pot due to the fast paced attempt by real investors, scientist and practioners to end this disease no matter the comments and or denial by colleagues from all hair sites and businesses. This is an era where real science is being applied! Intercytex would have given up or never started but they know HT’s are out soon and need to create another path to in order to stay competitive. Luna, Histogen, Stanford, U of Bonn etc… are now cornered to shit of get off the pot because once the formula and or kit is released, top scientist will build upon the existing platform and create a greater product. This will happen..if not by Follica….some one who wnats billions…people are exposing frauds and this is the only time in history where real science is being applied to hairloss.

    Sooooooooo Stop relating this process or company with half-ass attempts of yesteryear. This is the new generation of scientist and not bought-out doctors etc… When everybody…..has this much attention been applied to hair loss by the scientific community with the greatest minds? I rest my case!

  • CC

    Has no-one posted anything for a week or am I missing something?

  • TheOne

    Hair??

    Sorry couldn’t resist :-)

  • JS

    CC, People are posting on latest news from follica. if you look at the top of the page click on ,New Fundraising for Hair-Raising: Follica Takes in $11 Million for Baldness-Treatment Approach.

  • CC

    Thanks for that JS.

  • KKwilliams

    Wow its dead in here lately!!

    I’m curious. what if any progress has follica made since there big news piece on MSNBC at the beginning of the year if any?? Weren’t they already supposed to start human trials at the beginning of the summer and it hasn’t even started and summers done?

    Evidence though pls…NOT just positive nonsense please :) Looks to me more like 5 years out. How could they release in two years as some guys are suggesting or rather hoping??

  • D

    KK: We are posting on the other webpage, look at JS last comment. The trials have already begun over a month ago, they are done at Harvard and are supposed to take 60 days. So maybe at the end of September or sometimes in October the trials should end (maybe some weeks later if we take into account how much time it took for people to see the advertisement they made at Harvard). It is said the trials are only testing “dermabrasion” and skins response to disruption, but they didn’t dismiss the comment whether they might apply something at this phase. So we will just have to wait and see. Meanwhile, go to http://www.hairsite.com and take a look at some guys result with Follica’s home made version!

  • KKwilliams

    Appreciate the info D :)

    But the study that has begin is not really follica though then right? not there technique at least. Its using no drugs and just seeing the derm results on there own correct?

    Ill check out the new spot everyone’s posting at. Thanks. Still think 4-5 years is what it might be available in….if it actually works

  • jordan

    can some please send me the link for where every one is now posting? thanks

  • KKwilliams
  • J

    I wish some educated knowledgable person of credibilty could tell us a possible timeframe….when follica will have a product…although for some reason I am optomistic about 2-3yrs…

  • Pingback: Follicaの特許文書から成分などの情報が明らかに re23.info | ハゲ・薄毛対策情報サイト

  • steve

    sounds interesting,i hope it works so those snake lotions will stop ripping people off

  • http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-1123172/Health-news-High-tech-wound-dressing-allergy-vaccine-hair-loss-prevention-gel.html hairbrained

    i know this is a bit different from what we are talking about but surely it is a step in the right direction for hair loss! more research going into hair in general cant be a bad thing

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-1123172/Health-news-High-tech-wound-dressing-allergy-vaccine-hair-loss-prevention-gel.html

  • http://www.malepatternhairlosstreatment.com/ Fast Treatment For MPB

    Quite an interesting and informative blog, indeed. Thanks for sharing.

  • http://www.saicosmetics.com Hair transplant

    Hair transplant is a surgical technique that involves moving skin containing hair follicles from one part of the body (the donor site) to bald or balding parts (the recipient site). It is primarily used to treat male pattern baldness, whereby grafts containing hair follicles that are genetically resistant to balding are transplanted to bald scalp.

  • http://15passengervan.org 15 passenger van rollover

    Hello thank you for posting this stuff, I was going to do something somewhat the same so this information is helpful. -Jason D.

  • Pingback: Possible cure for human baldness bodes well for the animals, too! | Animals

  • L.H. Loebis

    Jeffrey Teumer says: human papillar cells retain their capacity
    to induce a new hair follicle. (May 2005)

    Stenn, K. says: human papillar cells loose their capacity to
    induce a new hair follicle (Organogenesis 2007 Jan-Mar; 3(1) pg. 6-13

    What is the truth?

  • juan

    Hi my name is Juan , i have been loosing my hair since i was 15 years old . My father was bols so i guess this is happening to me now.
    I have spending a lot of money in promess to cure my hair lose but at the moment i have not hair and money to spend.
    I am alone now becouse of my bolnes, my wife left me after i get bold.

    Are there any real cure for bolnes.
    Best Regards
    Juan

  • http://meuhisoji.de.tl Ltnzhosy

    Lost credit card http://ehaetigirem.de.tl toplist model pages Prozilla, obviously it’s fake! Definitle yNOT boring though. There must be something wrong with you. Thanks for your negative and usless comment.

  • Pingback: Hair-Raising Follica Study Could Point to Baldness Therapy | Xconomy

  • Pingback: structured settlement