all the information, none of the junk | biotech • healthcare • life sciences

Follica Gets New CEO, Gears Up for More (Hair and Business) Growth

Xconomy Boston — 

Follica, the Boston-area startup out to bring a scientific approach to helping hair-loss sufferers re-grow their locks, is preparing for some new growth of its own. The firm, run since its late 2006 inception by founding CEO Daphne Zohar of Boston’s PureTech Ventures, announced today the hiring of a new president and CEO, William Ju, a biopharmaceutical veteran with experience in an array of therapeutic arenas, including dermatology (he is a board certified dermatologist). The selection of Ju seems to position the firm to move out of the purely research-focused stage and closer to becoming a drug development company.

“There’s just a lot of excitement with regard to the science, and to the progress that’s been made,” Ju says of Follica’s work to date. “When I heard about the opportunity, I was really delighted with it, given my background as a dermatologist, given what I think is really breakthrough research.” And he says he looks forward to “bringing the company through to its next developmental stages.”

For her part, Zohar put it this way in a statement: “We are thrilled to welcome Bill Ju as the CEO of Follica. He brings the ideal blend of dermatology and drug development experience, creativity and leadership skills to Follica in this next exciting phase of development.”

What, exactly, Follica’s next step is—and when it will occur—is of intense interest to many of Xconomy’s readers, who struck up an often-spirited conversation on the site after we reported Follica’s $5.5 million Series A round in January 2008 and continued the discussion after the startup’s $11 million Series B funding last August. A lot of the talk in these comments has been centered on a 15 to 20 patient proof of concept study that Follica launched to put its follicle-generating approach to the test. Zohar confirmed the study’s existence last August, but the company has not provided other details on its progress—other than to stick to a general timeline laid out in January 2008 that no results would be available for at least a year. Depending on how you count, and when exactly the trial began, that year is either up or close to being up.

Which might or might not have something to do with Ju’s hiring. When I asked him about the trial, Ju, who started on May 1 and is still getting up to speed, was understandably vague. “The trial is ongoing. The trial is going well,” he says. “Once I get a chance to evaluate that, I’ll have a better sense.” He did add this: “I’ve certainly been pleased with the way things are going…A lot of it is really getting into the details and confirming from a quality perspective what you see with regard to the data points.”

He brushed over discussion of any plans for a bigger trial.

Ju spoke in more detail, however, about other aspects of the company’s progress—including its move to new locations in Philadelphia and the Boston area. But before picking that up, here is some background, in case you aren’t up to speed on the company.

Follica was formed in late 2006 by PureTech Ventures, a venture-creation company that identifies a market need and puts together a company to meet it. In this case, PureTech has claimed that treatments for conditions of the follicle make up a $10 billion-plus annual market. In addition to androgenic alopecia—the extremely common form of hair loss best known as male pattern baldness or female pattern baldness—these conditions include acne, excessive hair growth, and other disorders.

PureTech’s idea was to bring a scientific approach to such problems. Follica was builtaround a high-profile group of researchers that includes University of Pennsylvania stem cell biologist George Cotsarelis, Harvard Medical School dermatologist Rox Anderson, and Vera Price, director of the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) Hair Research Center, among others. And as I explained in my last story: “At the root of Follica’s approach to hair loss is Cotsarelis’s discovery (made after the company was formed) that when the skin’s uppermost layers are removed some cells within the wound revert to a more basic state from which they can develop into either skin or hair-and that he could actually direct cells in this ’embryonic window’ to form new hair follicles. Follica licensed that research and has since developed the work further and filed additional patents to protect the technology.”

Cotsarelis’ work is what particularly appealed to Ju, whose most recent job was as chief operating officer of New Jersey-based PTC Therapeutics (before that, he was an R&D executive at Pharmacia and worked at Merck Research Laboratories and Hoffmann-La Roche). “I was fascinated by what I considered the breakthrough science and the tremendous potential of the technology,” he says. “I’d like to really build on that rigorous scientific approach, and then to continue to evaluate it, move it along the development value chain, and then based on that come out with approaches to treating skin that are rigorous in terms of their effectiveness and safety and provide something that is clinically meaningful to patients.”

The new Follica CEO is still working out of New Jersey—and says he isn’t sure where he will set up shop. He could choose either of the two locations where Follica now has operations. The first, in Waltham, MA, houses the contingent of the company that used to work in PureTech’s Boston offices and is spearheaded by VP and head of operations Scott Kellogg. Follica’s research operation, meanwhile, has relocated from the University of Pennsylvania campus—Cotsarelis’s home—into an incubator space in Philadelphia. That branch is staffed by Stephen Prouty, VP and head of research, and three research associates.

“We’ve kept our pre-clinical group down in Philadelphia,” he says, because Cotsarelis is the “heart and soul of the science of the company.”

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

  • ZZ

    It sure would! They’ll join the party at some point. It’s starting to look like a race.

  • DBS

    OK, we’re at 2000 posts. Let’s switch over to the newer story. Maybe if we do, it will convince the author to penn another story on Follica.

    Also, whatever happened to “R”. He just disappeared. He said a woman named Elaine Fuchs proved hair could be regrown with very high doses of anit-anflamatories. Is that true and has anyone ever tried to make a topical solution like that?

  • rev

    I’m tired of following Follica’s posts; if we move we should move somewhere else… like the histogen article.

    DBS: Elaine Fuchs is merely a researcher. She’s not associated with any single company that’s commercializing a treatment. Her WNT research, however, is an important factor in Histogen’s HSC

  • Ryan

    So, are we staying or moving?

  • Shooter

    I forgot all about R!

    Rev, to be honest I never even entertained the notion that Nicholas Cage movies might be good in spite of him, not because of him. My entire worldview has been shattered and cast into disarray.

    P.S. someone needs to sign up for the Aderans treatment and report back to the forum.

  • Ryan

    Shooter, wasn’t someone on Hairsite part of the aderans trial? I’m sure I saw someone on there who was, but he couldn’t say much about it.

  • Artista

    Rev, I would certainly agree with you. The Gho procedure certainly sounds expensive. I’m not sure i follow exactly what it is that he does. Are we talking about dissection of the donor hair follicle while it is still in the scalp? I guess i COULD research it myself,,lol. ZZ, thanks for the Aderans ‘heads up’. I will definitely look into that. One more thing, Rev I also agree with you on about the Nick Cage movies with one exception.
    The 2002’movie “Adaptation”. The only role in which he showed true TALENT. Maybe its because he didn’t wear a hairpiece. Since then he went back to bad acting bad movies bad roles.In “Leaving Las Vegas” he showed a glimpse of acting skill but the movie wasn’t that good. Ok im done ,,’save me the aisle seat’

  • DBS

    I’ve decided. We’re moving to the newer story.

  • Shooter

    K guys. Here’s what I know:

    I called the number on the Aderans site for the clinical trial nearest to me.

    I talked to a lady from the research facility who was extremely nice. She said they hadn’t started recruitment just yet, but that the study itself should start in May. Overall it lasts for about a year. She said that the majority of the procedure is done during the first few visits and then its mostly just monitoring afterwards.

    I was encouraged because she said the entire team at the research facility was excited to start it because it was a “cool study.” She went on to describe the procedure (of which we are already familiar) and was in awe of the overall concept. I was REALLY encouraged (although I tried hard to play dumb) because she said that once trials get to “them” (meaning the research company), the procedre has already been tried on people before and they are usually pretty sure it works. I believe her exact words were something like “Oh yeah, they are pretty sure.”

    That being said, she is just an employee and is not given any information with which to make that decision. She just knows that they are a late-term facility so by the time trials get to them they are usually safe and at least minimally effective.

    Everyone else should call their respective facility and try to 1) get more info and 2) SIGN UP!

  • Lurker


    Can I ask you a few questions about Aderans technique? They don’t seem to get at fundamental answers on their site to what I believe are straight-forward questions anyone would want to know.

    1) How are the hair cells originally extracted? Additionally, how much are extracted? Will it scar?

    2) From what I understand, they take the cells out, they reproduce, then they inject the reproduced cells back into the scalp. Does this mean there’s no physical implantation of actual hairs (ie during a transplant)? For instance, I’m curious about where the implantation of the cells occurs… the top of the head? The back?

    3) If the cells just grow hairs, and there’s no hair transplant style implantation of the new hairs, then how would this technique deal with hairlines on the scalp?

    4) If they hope cells will simply reproduce, don’t they have a fear this could develop cancerous tumors? I mean afterall, that’s what cancer is, right?


  • Artista

    Shooter, was that the St Louis area? I called the Chicago one and their trials are ongoing at this moment. Too bad cause I LIVE in Chicago ,,lol

  • Happy1

    A link defining the procedure would be helpful.
    This is Alderans/Bosley right?
    I for one, still wouldn’t go for anything that leaves a scar.

  • ZZ

    Nice work Shooter. Lurker, I am going to call myself and will try to ask as many questions as possible. With respect to your cancer question, that is in fact the primary safety question. The reproduction of the cells occurs in the culture outside the body and to date the reproduction seems to have proven safe. However, I suppose that could change depending upon what ingredients they add to the culture to try and improve on the quality and number of cells reproduced. Check out the abstract that Shooter referenced for the conference in Australia. I’m sure both Aderans & Trichoscience have different methods of culture and most likley start w/ different cells as well. One of my questions is how do they know which hairs to take for the starter cells. I don’t know about most of you but the hair on the sides and back of my head are no where near as thick as it used to be so I would think they would have a method of determining the most dht resistent follicles.

  • Shooter

    Hey Lurker, good questions. Maybe I can be of a little help.

    First things first: The exact method used by Aderans is proprietary and confidential. Trialists are forced to sign non-disclosure agreements and the majority of their research is conducted in stealth. For this reason, no one knows EXACTLY what their process consists of.

    Having said that, by looking at the most recent Aderans patents (available on this thread and on the aderans website) you can get a pretty good idea of what’s going on.

    First, they take a biopsy from the back of your head. It is possible that this will leave a little scar, however it probably will not be noticeable (like that of a HT).

    Hair and skin cells from this biopsy are multiplied in a culture medium and combined together.

    This combination is inserted into a small biodegradable scaffold and the scaffold is inserted just under the skin of your scalp (in the balding areas). Over time the scaffold disintegrates and the cells turn into a hair (should take about 3 months).

    The End.

    Now, this is all theoretical. I could be wrong on several points and, of course, the entire process might not even work. But this is as close as I can figure (and I’m pretty sure its mostly correct).

  • Shooter

    To clarify, the scar will NOT be noticeable. HT scars ARE noticeable.

  • iwantsomehair


    are you going to participate in Aderans clinical trials if the opportunity comes about?

  • ZZ
  • Pingback: Universities In Georgia()