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 … Next Page »

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

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  • JS

    If you look at the first report of this with dr cotsarelis, He says they were suprised to see new follicles forming in the wound on the mouse. So this test will probably be following the same path they took with the mice.

    First they will see if follicles form in the wound and if it follows a similar path then they will probably do another test with the compounds added to control the development of new follicles, Because he did say that they had to push the process to either create more follicles or in the other direction which they want to pursue for permanent hair removal, Which they are also developing i believe.

  • g

    I wish they would hurry up, i got almost no hair left!

  • P

    I just saw some pictures of the ACell stuff on animal wounds and WOW, is all I can say.

    If anyone had the balls to scalp themselves I’m 99% sure you would get your hair back, and even assuming it comes back DHT sensitive you would be much more prepared to maintain for quite a while (I mean, if it took 20 years to fall out once, why not again?).

    Of course it does involve massive head trauma, so certainly not the most marketable solution.

  • g

    actually not sure if this is related, but i know my brother, had some sort of injury when he was a kid on his abs section, he scratched it or something and this spot eventually filled with hair. he still got hair there, he is 37 now and it was over 30 years back. :)

  • D

    Yeah that’s interesting g. I also wrote about a kid that got a full head of hair with wounding. But we maybe have to take into account that these are kids; DHT hasn’t kicked in yet for them maybe, so the hair can grow. It is interesting to see now what happens in follicles attacked constantly by DHT.

    Btw, is there a limit on how many posts we can send on this website?

  • r1ch

    “If a drug has already been approved for other uses, it can skip past the initial safety trials and go directly into what’s called phase II trials, which take only about two years.”

    quote from http://www.popsci.com/scitech/article/2008-05/drug-resurrector

  • R

    The belly hair thing, is your brother covered in hair on the chest or abs as this could be a normal process for him once he hit puberty.

    I suspect something to come along soon and we should hear news but outsiders / media catching a glimpse at this breakthrough. I agree, it needs to be done sooner and not later. This has gone on too long!

  • Shooter

    Does anyone think there is something we can do to grab media attention and get some info from Follica? I realize it’s a long shot, but I know I would KILL for a statement from Cotsarelis himself just saying “There is about an 80% chance in 4 years we will have a solution for hair loss.” that can’t be misconstrued in any way.

  • M

    4 years it way too (!!!) long for a technique that is already there and working! They must handle in a human manner and must not let us wait for al those bureaucratic s*hit. Please give us soon our hair back!!

  • g

    ya actually he does have hair on his chest and some on his stomach, its just that spot is on the side kinda where there is no other hair and you can see that scratch that he had. its about 3-4 inches in diameter and darker then other skin and there hair growth in that spot that dont come outside of the scratch. Sorry if its confusing.

  • M.

    Hello G, how is the hair density in that spot? Is that spot filled with hair like his stomach and chest?

  • Shooter

    M, I was being hypothetical. Absolutely nobody knows if it will be 4 years or 1 year (though it is probably closer to 4 than 1). We also do not know if they have a working procedure or not. It is still very possible at this stage that it will not work.

  • R

    People, I think we need to read between the lines on this one and look at the event as a major breakthrough never brought to fruition. This procedure and hair growth phenomenom was shown to work back in the 1950′s. The difference today is greater technology, wiilingness of scientist go across the grain of mainstay thinking and the unmet needs – potential dollars for a cure / viable treatment. Other companies are building on this platform with other growth factors to grow hair and still many others are utilizing different techniques altogether to generate hair.

    Another important note is that mainstay practioners are seriously researching and probably partaking in the study. If memory serves me, Mercola probably didn’t start the procedure as intented due to Follica prolonging the actual first phase. I was told a different hospital other than Havard Medical School. So this may provide Follica with greater leverage to study and practice outside of other medical establishments. Also, we are seeing and hearing (which is backed by Follica Reps) that lay-people are experiencing regrowth from all kinds of injuries.

    We must look at this event as a catalyst to advanced treatment and possible cures for a number of dermatological diseases. Hair loss sufferers have voiced their opinions and that is why businesses are scrambling to solve this disease. If Acell does produce products this year, you can bet that someone will try the product for hair and if it works, every competitor, including Follica will be forced to kick it in high gear. Either way the consumer wins!

    On a side note: Follica already anticipates the outcome, but is just showing incremental steps to the finale. Zohar stated that several phases in one year, believe me that Follica Reps spoke about the procedure to everyone too much and had to back track to prevent further data and information from leaking to competitors. 60 days to show hair growth witin dermabrasion areas allows Follica to witness how much growth factors are needed to grow the hair back. They may need only 45% addition when used on humans but 65% on mice. Just speculating but you see the reasoning. Secondly, they have to say not a treatment or cure for baldness, but we already know that is the target. Follica needs to present each phase of the puzzle by pieces positioned to show that every avenue was used showing each phase of the treatment and what growth factors are needed to provide ample coverage. For example dermabrasion = 15 hairs only, with one growth factor at 15% = 250 hairs, add 65% growth factor 3000 hairs etc,,, you get the drift Yes! This shows a ladder scale of research to present the reasoning, science, application / technique and projected outcome in a systematic fasion to help present and sell the product. The Harvard location compliments the internal forces of Follica (alumni’s and past practioners) as well as greater freedom to leverage their research.

    Remember that Histogen is targeting just 7 years from now for a product and will start their trials with a different scaffold this year. Basic premise of Follica but with different growth factors. Believe me that they know this procedure was noted back in the 1950′s and all they need is to present thier data systematically and sell the product. Histogen trully is targeting around 4 years as they know any advancement raises the platform for the competitor to start where they left off.

    If the 1950′s discovery was allowed to pursue, we would not be here and this would been cured around 1970 due to the limited science knowledge, but todays knowledge is much greater and almost every disease is being mapped and the trigger gene identified quickly. Hold on people, it is coming soon!

    P.S. This one example of true scientific knowledge building upon technology. Saliva! Remember wound closure and healing compliments hair growth as well as growth factors for future healing.

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/07/080723094841.htm

  • g

    actually that spot is very dense compare to his other places on the stomach.

  • Shooter

    Hey R, you mentioned you were told another location and that Follica may have elongated the first phase. Can you elaborate on what you mean/how you know this? Thanks.

  • Wicked

    Acell has been released today! I hope it will help us! ;)

  • R

    I forgot the other hospital name but it was not Harvard that was mentioned. Acell’s release will promp rogue practioners to experiment in small areas to teat hair growth. Remember, you only need about 50% for good coverage in an area so every little bit helps. When this procedure becomes mainstay, you will smiling faces everywhere. Hang-on, another stage of innovation is at hand!

    P.S. On another note,the reason the trials and procedure are not listed as baldness treatments is to bypass regulatory roadblocks. This will enable Follica to move forward un-impeded.

  • Shooter

    Thanks, but I meant like who told you the phases were originally taking place somewhere else and that they had been prolonged?

  • R

    Secretary stated the hospital and the delay was relayed through conversations that they were working on a program, location, technique, target patients, and no true time line other than the trial will take place soon and that a product will be available in a few years. I asked what represents a few years and it was stated two-three years.

    Remember several phases in one year for the trials so I believe will have something in two-three years as forcasted. MSNBC stated three-four years and maybe sooner due to the projected (consistent) success rate!

  • JS

    One thing that i still don’t understand is what will happen When the follica treatment is used and new follicles are created above the ones we already have, They aren’t working properly but they are still there.

  • M.

    mostlikely they will grow between the existing hairs. Perhaps the existing hairs will get strong too like the new hairs, otherwise they will fall out as they now already do. But you won’t notice that due to the large amount of the new thick hairs.

  • R

    No people, the follicles that are resting are also a traget to wake up and if the environment is changed the hairs will persist. Secondly, the new follicles will just replace the existing ones with the results showing normal hair growth and thickness. This is the same premise of HT’s and still most can’t be recognized as HT’s. So any new growth wil be better and as if you never loss hair in the first place. Please people, they know more and are fully aware of any setbacks or concerns. just enjoy the remarkable breakthrough and live!

  • K

    R,
    I sure hope you know your stuff and just aren’t an overly optimistic poster. I want to believe this is finally it, however, if this fails many hearts are going to be crushed. I also hope that Follica realizes the magnitude of this research/product. Millions upon millions of men (and women) are in need of this and are putting their faith in them. I just hope that they are honestly doing all they can to ensure not only that it works but also that it goes to market as quick as possible because honestly, we have ALL waited long enough.

  • R

    Everyone is optimistic that why they are here posting. No one that has any doubt for this or any product will here communicating. I cannot establish 100% that this will work but only to say it will catepault evry path forward and I highly doubt it will go past 7 years. Just observe who is jumping on this platform and what areas of science are moving forward beyond what we seen before. You can witness today that many organizations are pinpointing hair loss breakthroughs from Follicas path to nano and high-end antioxident molecules that are stimulating and regrowing existing / new follicles. Remember that lay-people are experiencing the same growth without technology via injuries!

  • K

    R,
    Thanks for responding.

    I have been following some of these “self experimenters” from other forums and unfortunately I have not seen one person get thick regrowth. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t work, far from it. I believe many are doomed to fail based on the fact that they are not replicating the “growth compound” correctly. Based on everything that I have both read and studied, I DO believe this can work.

    All I know is that if I had the capitol, I’d certainly invest in hair restoration. The market is massive and the people want a product that will work and not one they must take risks in. I, myself, saw my hair thinning this year and I will not shell out any of my money for altering my hormones or to slather my head in Minox. If Follica works, I will have no problems breaking out my pocket book. Until then, I’ll just hope they get this out in time before I decide to someday just shave it all off and get on with my life, just like the millions of other guys who have done the same.

    Also, if this does succeed, one may look into investing in beauty products or salons. Can you imagine millions of thin/bald/balding men suddenly have hair? That would do wonders for this market, along with countless others.

  • JS

    K…I think your right about other areas of cosmetic treatments having a big increase in profits if one of these treatments works properly, Which makes the fact that there hasn’t been much investment in scientific methods to solve hairloss bemusing to say the least.

    I do think something will be found sooner rather than later to treat hairloss properly, But there will be a nagging doubt at the back of my mind until we see concrete results, And for them to happen we will have to play the waiting game which is extremely frustrating.

    All of this isn’t really helped when you see something positive on the horizon like dr mercola declaring in one of his news letters that he would be starting some kind of stem cell treatment, I’m sure i’m not the only person who signed up for his news letters on the basis of the statement that he would provide updates in them of how it was going, But since then theres been nothing but silence on the matter. Whether there have been delays to what it is he was going through with or not it would be nice if they kept people up to date.

  • jordan

    R sometime you say 2 years sometimes 4 years and othertimes 7 years! is there a reason for this?

  • R

    I believe in two- three years you will have something. The four – seven years are that latest forcast that something will arrive for all of us. These are the time lines stated by the researchers and I bring about that the two- seven years are referenced. Also, please everyone shave and or cut your hair short and start getting used to the hair style, once you adapt, you live beyond the worries. It will come and we need to be patient.

    Again, 2-4 years Follica prediction, Histogen 7 years and everyone maybe in-between.

    P.S. Fungus is being researched as a reason for MPB, so keep a look out on future announcements that fungus growth in the body may contribute MPB more so than androgens! This all I have on this subject to date but more research is coming!!

  • G

    R, where did you read about this Fungus theory? any reputable researcher/university? link?

  • R

    Health magazine that states a strong connection and now science is studying that connection. I don’t have too much information but will provide more as further information is provided.

    Health magazine at Vitamin Shoppe

  • JS

    G…I found this article that mentions what R is talking about.
    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6WN2-4CB0184-5&_user=10&_rdoc=1&_fmt=&_orig=search&_sort=d&view=c&_acct=C000050221&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=10&md5=8275617dbfb1dfcff7eb320951a0d926

    I don’t know about everyone else, But would it really be a suprise if it turned out something quite simple was causing it all along

  • P

    Monitoring this is too stressful, and I’ve only cared for like 8 months!

    It doesn’t seem very likely that a fungus could cause this, as there is a clear genetic link, unless maybe you are genetically susceptible to a fungus? And how would DHT be related?

    To be honest, I am surprised at how little we know about this sort of thing. Has hair loss taken a back seat research wise? Or are we only just now approaching the general understanding required to tackle hair loss?

    Oh and, HURRY UP FOR THE LOVE OF GOD.

    Everyday those little bastards are committing suicide off my head.

  • Shooter

    Lol, P. Hurry up is right! Can’t Follica say SOMETHING? I mean, we know they are doing some form of trials, but we also know that those trials have nothing to do with curing hairloss/wnt/special compounds either. The cat is out of the bag. What’s the deal? I’m sorry but I can’t deal with another company hitting a wall, keeping quiet after big potential, and letting people down without explaining the situation.

  • M.

    I agree. The article in Nature is 2 years old. What the hell have they been doing in those 2 years?? I don’t believe that Follica has not done any tests on humans. You cannot say, hey we have found a form of a cure but let’s wait a few years to test it on humans. Cotsarelis must have done some tests (as a help) on his friends or relatives.

    is there any news about Dr. Phill and that other guy??

  • P

    I wouldn’t doubt that they have, but either way they aren’t going to tell us.

    The world runs on greed, not good intentions, and they have no reason to tell us anything (which could spur competitors) before they are prepared to market the product. They don’t care about the hairs on your head, they care about the dollars in your pocket.

    BUT, if we assume for a second that they HAVE tested this personally (if I worked there I sure as hell would), and they are still choose to go forward with trials, we may have something to be positive about. To counter that though, they are attempting to develop products for more than just growing hair, so unless we see trials for hair GROWTH (which the most recent trial announcement specifically denies) in mind there really is nothing to get excited about yet.

  • Shooter

    I’m not trying to be negative, but no there is no news about either of them. It APPEARS that Mercola made that amazing statement to get hits for his website as he has not updated the story as promised. Dr. Phil was a long shot to begin with and currently has no more hair on his head than ever before. I have no clue what Follica have been doing. I would feel great if their trials involved the actual process, but I’m scared because these trials have nothing to do with the hair regrowth method they described on TV or in this article. It would appear that the 3-4 year estimation will not be met, however without any company communication whatsoever there is no way to honestly tell.

  • r1ch

    im also of the opinion of it going to be more 4 or more years than 2 or 3. Purhaps their hair removal and achne products will be marketable but the ever elusive silver bullet for baldness? who knows!
    Follica’s silence ses a lot, i think ever1 saying its bcoz of competition is really grasping at straws.. if they are doing well and its on the right track surley they would say bcoz of investors?

  • Shooter

    I have to agree. I mean, their techniques are patented so competitors don’t have much to market. They must have encountered some problems with the human immune system, or how bald skin reacts to dermabrasion. Mice and humans and very different and I think that might be the hold-up. Once again, this is all just healthy speculation. Nobody knows for sure, I just wish there was some good news for us to discuss about Mercola/Follica as opposed to old, questionable statements.

  • M.

    Shooter, I was thinking, how could Follica convince the money providers and raise (collect) 5.5 million if their method did not work? They MUST have shown some proof to those providers to get the money. Nobody gives money to buy a dead monkey. Or am I wrong?

  • P

    I tried to find the website that showed venture capitalist funded start ups success/failure ratio, but I couldn’t find the exact one I was looking for.

    A safe estimate (from memory, and a less official looking website I just found) is that 1/3 of VC funded companies succeed. The remaining 2/3s are flubs.

    I also just read an interesting article linking the success of the company to the past success of the entrepreneur that started it (so check on Daphne Zohar’s other companies at http://www.puretechventures.com) and the VC firms funding it (check for reputable VCs).

  • Shooter

    M, the people behind this project (Cotsarelis, Price, Cape, Prouty, Anderson, etc.) are very skilled, very well known, and very confident in the outcome. I believe it is these factors that got Interwest Partners (the company that provided the bulk of the funding) excited about putting down some money. However, nobody can guarantee success in this industry no matter what their knowledge or expertise (unfortunately!!!). The money raised was supposed to be used to fund a proof of concept study to get more capital for clinical trials and a full-time CEO (or so I’ve read), so the initial investment was just a long shot, which makes it very possible still that Follica is in the unsuccessful 2/3 of VCs. The representative, Chris Ehrlich, from Interwest has been quoted as saying that Follica is a high-risk type of project, not a done-deal like we assumed. I am not bashing the company or praising them, just providing facts from a business perspective. We CANNOT get our hopes up yet. Not until Follica 1) becomes more transparent with information, 2) issues a successful press release, or 3) proves this concept works well on humans. I mean, what if it works as expected, but the results are just thin and of vellus character? The concept would still be a success, just of no use to consumers…

  • R

    The comments are not based on facts and one opinion fules another that creates subjective answers not trully backed by science and or the researching firms. You will have your answers when the trials are finished. Furthermore, they cannot say baldness cure or treatments because it will classify them in a whole new regulatory framework that will take 15 years to produce. Dr. Mercola would sabotage his business if this was a lie and his staff stated he would not lie and or allow this comment to go this far without stating it was a lie.

    I cannot speak for the researchers, but they owe you nothing. They care enough to solve this disease so give them time and space as this is the underlying theme of success. None of us wants to die from a messed up concoction so we must wait. You will hear news in the near future so be patient. Speculating creates the same atomosphere as the other forums and have you recognized that their treatments never work. Why the hell do they waste their time and money on supplements and forums. Money is the driving force behind this group / all the others and they will succeed for fame and monetary assests.

    Hair loss is being investigated like never before and this is good news as they are finding multiple paths to acheieve great results.

  • SB

    One of the researchers, Vera Price, is a Dermatologist at Universty of California at San Francisco Medical Center (UCSF).

    If you were to call her office at UCSF for a regular office visit, they will charge you $450 for a half an hour office visit. You pay that UP FRONT, and she does not accept medical insurance. She didn’t when I called anyway, a few years back.

    She is turning away serious cash in order to spend time on this Follica experiment. Price is not dumb!

    There must be something there!

  • M.

    She is a member of Follica! She cannot speak for herself because Follica only does official statements. That’s why she is not spending time with individuals like you and me about the Follica experiment. That Follica is silent at this time being does not say anyhting at all. They said it would take some time to inform the public about the Follica status.

  • D

    SB: Yeah you might be right. There was a user on a hair loss forum that went to Vera Price, she is his dermatologist he said. He asked her about new research and she reportedly said that “Follica is the next big thing”.

  • Shooter

    In keeping with this theory, Dr. Cotsarelis has not been seeing any patients since January. This is neither good or bad necessarily, but we do know that Price and Cotsarelis are putting their normal practices aside for this project. I just hope they are doing this because they know it will work, and aren’t basing this on a long shot.

  • g

    oh maybe they just taking a break, doing something different for a change lol

  • Dave
  • Shooter

    Well now I’m thoroughly confused. I hope Follica is farther along than those Stanford people… the fact that Cotsarelis sees a product that is only marginally effective in mice as an “initial” step is reeeaallly worrisome. Are we farther away than we thought?

  • M.

    I think this is a technique beside/different than Follica’s method. There is no reason to worry, Follica is on the right track. I hope to hear from Follica soon.