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

5/13/09Follow @bbuderi

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 … 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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  • rev

    These research streams tend to desolve from “sizzle” to “fizzle” rather quickly.

    You can only take solace in research that materializes proof-of-concept on HUMANS … finally evolving to actual human trails. Everything else isn’t really worth our while.

    Dr Cots pumps out so many hairloss theories I’m beginning to think he gets paid by-the-theory NOT by-the-hour. He reminds me of the “Pinky and the Brain” cartoons. The Brain hatched a cornucopia of marvelous schemes to take over the world that never went anywhere. In fact, I think we can sum Dr Cots in the quote below:

    Pinky (aka us): “Gee, Brain, what do you want to do tonight?”
    The Brain (aka Dr Cots): “The same thing we do every night, Pinky—try to take over the world (aka cure hairloss)! …..”

  • JS

    rev I’m gonna take a wild guess and say you’ve become somewhat disillusioned with the way things are going. It’s good to see you’ve still got a sense of humour though, you need one when you are putting all your hopes into this industry.

    I wonder if Dr Cotsarelis will put his catchphrase “in 4 or 5 years we’ll have something ready for the public” on his headstone.

  • Ryan

    As I have been reading through a lot of the old posts over the last couple of days I saw the ones about Luna Nanoworks originally posted by JS and remembered that they had been sued or something and nothing more was coming of their work, well I went to their site to see if they were still in business. It seems they are still working and one of the scientists there was earlier this month nominated for an award for his work in immunology, so the guys are still working and are taken seriously by their peers.

    I’m sorry if I’m rambling, anyway I checked the part of their site about hair growth and at the bottom of the article it says “The nanomaterials being investigated at Luna have highly unusual behavior and Luna scientists believe they can be targeted to sites with nanoscale precision. Luna scientists are currently exploring different dosing regimens and formulations to optimize performance.”

    http://www.lunananoworks.com/markets/hair-growth.htm

    Does anyone know if this is the same page from before they were sued and they haven’t really carried on their work? Or are they actually back looking into this again, some of you guys are pretty good at finding things out about these companies so hopefully you’ll be able to help.

  • Artista

    Ryan you were not rambling at all..interesting piece you brought. Thanks

  • ZZ

    Just another perspective if it helps anyone sort thru this: There currently appear to be 4 primary players in the game. Aderans & Trichoscience are working the follicular stem cell multiplication angle. Follica & Histogen are working the Wnt cocktial injectable/topical angle. It’s pure speculation as to how far along any of these players actually are although I think its safe to say that they have figured out how to regenerate hair to at least some minimal level. They have not yet proven that they can do it at a cosmetically viable level nor have they proven that their methods are safe. The body of hair research and the discoveries made in these studies appear to be building upon each other with increasing momentum. Each discovery is a piece of an extremely complicated puzzle…..something we often forget. While each discovery may mean little by itself, it could be the missing link that gets 1 or more of our 4 players to the next generation of treatment if not a total cure. I agree that it is perplexing and frustrating that Follica does not appear to have even conducted a clinical study. But this does not diminish my confidence that they are hard at work nor does it incite me to want to burn them at the stake just b/c I don’t understand what what they are doing. Cotsarelis is one of the pre-eminent researchers in the field and the business guys at Puretech are far more savvy than we at taking concepts and turning them into real businesses… its all they do. We have no idea what’s going on behind closed doors and I’m not saying that Follica’s concept will ultimately be successful, but the odds are strong that if we knew all of the facts, it would make solid business sense. If Histogens numbers are for real, I think we are 3-4 years away from at least the next generation of treatment. At this point, they appear to be setting the pace.

  • rev

    I have a great deal of respect for Histogen, their progress, their willingness to communicate with their client base, and the manor they treat us like… what’s that word I’m looking for…. oh yeah… ADULTS!!

    I even had a change of heart with regards to ARI. They shed Washenik’s earlier claims based on bogus timelines in favor of transparent news and trial updates.

    Follica, on the other hand, is not in sync with their rivals conduct. It’s not very difficult to strike a balance between protecting one’s proprietary tech while extending a small ounce of courtesy to the public (both ARI, and Histogen managed to do it successfully). Follica could simply put out one press release stating: “hey dudes, we tested our tech on humans, and we achieved proof-of-concept. Please don’t ask us how we did it; it’s more secret than the Colonel’s 11 herbs and spices.”. Instead, Follica decided to spend their “accumulated goodwill” quicker than Toyota.

  • Artista

    How does one follow 2 great contributions? ZZ i have to say that you have provided this site the best assessment to date based on the information that is available to the public.
    Rev once again you make a very valid point in a humorous way. By the way was the Colonel’s secrets ever revealed?

  • Sweden

    We will all die naked bald, our generation. Thats a fact! Dont waist more time on false hope. Come on guys, we are all bald in here and we will die in that condition. See you in December!

  • Shooter

    ZZ, good post. The only thing I’d add is that both ARI and Histogen have proven that their methods are safe (i.e. passed Phase 1). We just don’t know how “viable” their results are in terms of providing cosmetically acceptable hairs.

    I pretty much always agree with rev when he rips on Follica. I feel like he communicates my frustration better than I could myself.

  • Jordan

    Artisa you work for an airline, could you not go to the confrence and find out what happens?

  • Artista

    Oh i have given that a thought before Jordan. You have to remember that there is the cost of accommodation after the flight.

  • jordan

    We’ll all chip in?

  • Billy

    I hope Follice come out the blue and surprices us all, heck i need this!!!

  • Shooter

    Billy, I totally agree. Just try not to pin your hopes on one company. I am truly starting to think that Follica has fallen farther and farther behind. Let’s just try and stay positive until we know for sure.

  • Jordan

    We all need this! Shooter i agree with you. In my opinion growth factors look like a better approach for hair loss as aposed to HM.

    If i was to put anymoney down, it would be on Histogen.

    DAMMMMM you follica, talk to us!!!

  • DBS

    What concerns me about Follica is they have only gone through two rounds of fund raising. A total of $18 million or so is not a lot to work with unless they have some sort of agreement where Cotsarelis does the research on Penn’s dime. I doubt that, by the way.

    Certainly, it would be hard to imagine Follica doing a large scale trial with just $18 million unless they are currently working on another round of fund raising or are being subsidized silently by a large pharma. No hints of either so I remain guarded in my opinion.

    While I feel they offer the best promise, I do think they are far behind where many of us hoped they would be after splashing on the scene three years ago. The simplicity of their approach and Follica’s own comments created unrealistic expectations.

    If the process was as simple and safe as Cotsarelis said, why wouldn’t they just have 25 or so people sign wavers and go for it?

  • JS

    DBS, regarding Follica’s funding, that was another thing that made me get my hopes up about them. When they got their second round of funding Zohar said this.

    “Our research has been progressing in a very positive way. We have had significant interest from the venture community and while we just closed the Series A round a few months ago, and weren’t planning on bringing in more money for a couple of years, we recognize that additional funds enable us to move more quickly. We have worked with Polaris before and they have been a great partner to us which is why we accelerated the Series B round.”

    At the time I thought that bringing forward their second round of fund raising by a couple of years must mean they were even more convinced they could move this to market sooner than any of us could realise.

  • Jordan

    Dint Follica have a confrence and Merk were involved init? Someone posted the link here, bt we never heard anything after that.

  • Ryan

    There’s been some really good posts on here the last few days, rev and ZZ always make good points.

    We can but hope that one of these companies has some good news soon.

  • Zarko

    Guys,

    Just give it out. Even a fool can see that they all didn’t do anything. Just when they wasted all the money on cars, women and shit, some “good” news emerge. Just tell me one time they said something that isn’t in a dark times for them. When they grab the money, they are out of the story and keep spending baby.

  • Jacob

    Does anyone know if there has ever been an in depth study comparing the endocrine system of men who are balding and those who aren’t?

  • ZZ

    Shooter, Good point….I agree that Histogen & ARI (and it sounds like Trichoscience based on their abstract) appear to have proven a good safety profile. I was being extra conservative and factoring in a few question marks w/ respect to increased potency and or a new ingredient or 2 in the cocktail or culturing proecess. Speaking of culturing, here is a link to a 2008 European patent application regarding a method to culture dermal sheath cells from 2 companies Biophoenix & Biointegrence http://www.freepatentsonline.com/EP1950284.html. Basically, I believe it says that after the 4th passage in culture, the cells begin to age and lose their potency but that by adding PDGF-AA & FGF2 to the culture(I believe these are in Histogens cocktail)it extends the time these cells can be in culture and it greatly multiplies the number of new cells obtained. More good science. Believe me, I understand the frustration….I just process it a little differently.

  • rev

    So I emailed LUNA Innovations once more.

    The last time we spoke was March 2009. Back than I was told they were working on a product prototype but at that point in time they hadn’t begun discussing human trials.

    Fast-forward to today, I asked again if they could tell us if their hairloss research is getting any traction (i.e.. trials, commercialization, etc…)?

    They replied to me saying:
    “The company’s research efforts in various potential therapeutic applications for our fullerene compounds are on-going. We will attempt to keep investors informed when new significant milestones are achieved in this area of our business.”

    …to which I replied asking if you could restate themselves in layman’s terms? I asked, again, if there was a significant chance their hairloss technology will seek proof of concept on humans?

    Their response was
    “We have not announced any timeline for potential human trials related to our nanomaterial compounds”

    Translation: “This is LUNAcy.

  • JS

    I don’t understand why a company like LUNA wouldn’t be pursuing it more aggressively, Surely they can see that a real solution for male pattern baldness would be one of the most profitable treatments they will ever create. It would also give them funds for other areas of research they’re doing.

  • Shooter

    Hey Rev, thanks for keeping us updated. I guess I’m not that disappointed because I never considered LUNA a contender. Still, it’s good to have people checking up on every possible solution.

    ZZ, nice find! PhoenixBio has been conducting research into this area for awhile and they might even be at the Hair2010 event (if memory serves).

    Ah, yes. Here they are: http://www.hair2010.org/abstract/183.asp

    Funny how the first line of the PhoenixBio abstract is “We have established the culture methods by which dermal papilla cells (DPCs) and dermal sheath cells (DSCs) can be propagated.”

  • Jordan

    I hope some good new comes from this confrence, also i feel by the end of the year we should hear from adreans.

    We need a treatment that can give us a FULL head of hair, unlike like minoxidil and propecia

  • ZZ

    Interesting Shooter…….I wonder if they are trying to move this forward on their own or if maybe they are partnered in some way w/ Trichoscience or Aderans and we don’t know it. Their website makes them sound like more of a research firm but it also lists a “hair regeneration project”. I’ve seen the pic they show before somewhere.

  • Billy

    PhoenixBio can make it work in rats? Where are they based? Can they bypass FDA?

  • Deluxe

    How effective (percentage of coverage?) would Histogens HSC product be on gentlemen who are only mildly thinning on the top an front as opposed to completely bald.

    I know they are running trials to figure out most effective and efficient dosage, etc., but do you guys think that it would be cosmetically significant for someone who is only thinning?

  • DBS

    Can we move this discussion to the newer Follica story written on January 22? We’re approaching 2000 comments in this thread.

    In the newer story, someone mentioned UPenn was conducting a trial on getting rid of body hair. Can anyone post a link to that?

  • ZZ

    Billy, I believe they are a Japanese company. The research seems significant to me b/c it is focused on a key issue for Aderans & Trichoscience which is how to take 10-20 follicular stem cells (sheath, dermal papillae, etc) and culture them into enough cells to be effective once injected back into the scalp. Back in 2004, Kevin McElwee (Trichoscience)said in an intertview that: “A sample of about 10 hairs could produce several million cultured cells, which, in turn, could grow several thousand hairs.” I am sure they have come a long way since then and maybe if newer culturing technology allows the cultured cells to remain potent (and retain their full ability to grow hair)they would need far less than the millions described above. If the cultured cells aren’t potent or they don’t fully retain their ability to grow hair, you get mainly nothing to scraggly hair or peach fuzz (Intercytex). Personally, I think this is the multibillion issue and this is why I am very excited to hear the results of Phase I from Trichoscience. It just stikes me that McElwee has been zeroing in on this for years. As we know, time lines mean little, but interestingly, McElwee said back in 2004:
    “While early results are promising, he estimates it will take almost a decade of further study, clinical trials and meeting regulatory requirements before cloning is widely available.”

  • Ryan

    So are we going to continue using this page or move like DBS said?

  • Shooter

    DBS, as requested:

    http://www.pennmedicine.org/dermatology/hup/clinical.html#5

    Ryan, with regard to your question:

    It’s my personal opinion that we should postpone the switch until after we hit 2,000 posts.

  • Ryan

    Fair enough Shooter, I’m not really sure what difference it makes anyway.

    About that UPenn trial, is it to stop beard growth? I have never thought of that as a problem myself, I could understand men with excess body hair wanting to remove it permanently but stopping beard growth seems a strange thing for a man to want.

  • rev

    I’m starting to think Penn State’s “Hair Growth Prevention” trail’s a blessing in disguise. We could kidnap Doc Cots along with the rest of those Follica Clowns, rub that Hair Prevention crap onto their heads until they’re slick-bald, than tell them to get back to work on what really matters – Hair Growth !!!

  • Jacob

    Is Cotsarellis involved in this UPenn trial? You would think Follica would be against him having anything to do with it considering the method they licensed included hair removal.

    Things just keep getting stranger and stranger.

  • j

    WTF is all this doom and gloom? I thought we just had a bit of good news? If follica truly hasnt started any trials yet then Id say we stop talking about them all together because they def will not be the first to market with a treatment. and screw them for going on msnbc and ranting and raving about their treatment in 2-3yrs!!!AHOLES!!
    lets talk about the next players in line to have something…

  • tk

    I find it surprising people here aren’t really pumped up about Histogen or Dr Gho. With these two techniques, young people shouldn’t have to worry about hair anymore.

    We can basically grow new hair now. That was unthinkable 10 years ago. Follica will be ready when they’re ready. But the near future is VERY exciting.

  • Artista

    Hey ‘tk’ I am experiencing what you might say a ~reserved excitement~. Histogen’s HSC may very well be the first ,dare i say,
    v i a b l e
    treatment to lead in a series of other ground breaking treatments by other companies. Assumption can be a detriment. One must stay centered and not to go overboard with enthusiasm just yet. Histogen has yet to land in Singapore. The good thing is they WILL. Keep your dreams in check but DO dream.

  • ZZ

    Well said Artista! I am equally as “reserved” to hear from Trichoscience. There has to be a good reason (hopefully 100,000 per head of them) they finally decided to raise funds and enter Phase I after years of meticulous research. TK, do you have any links on Gho? I’ve heard of him but have never done any research.

  • JS

    I won’t be getting my hopes up about anything until I see the results in humans, even Histogen could hit problems yet. I’m sure most clinical trials fail in phase II, so while their recent results look promising there’s still a long way to go.

    ZZ, the Dr Gho treatment is being discussed in length on hairsite in the clinical trials and research section. I can’t put the link up on here they don’t seem to allow hairsite links.

  • ZZ

    Thanks JS I am curious as to what they have to say about cell culturing. And I was just reading about clinical trials…..you are correct that most fail in Phase II.

  • tk

    We should hear more of Gho in the coming months if HT docs around the world bother trying to reproduce his results. Dr Jones in Toronto might be willing to do this.
    The point is, don’t let this ruin your lives and taking the focus out of the things that really matter, because you will feel pretty dumb when growing hair back is a commercial reality, and no more difficult than growing new teeth.
    Wait… we still can’t regrow teeth, right? Okay, forget that last part. ;)

  • Artista

    Ohno we have another humorist on our hands,,lol. Great line tk !
    “… you will feel pretty dumb when growing hair back is a commercial reality” i believe that line was meant for the naysayers.

  • Shooter

    Brief synopsis for those who are unaware:

    A Dutch HT surgeon named Dr. Gho supposedly devised away to extract partial follicles for implantation. One part stays in the donor area and produces a normal hair. The other part is transplanted, producing another normal hair in the recipient area. In this way, a 2-for-1 transplant is feasible and donor hairs are virtually unlimited. He does this with specialized extraction tools and a proprietary culture medium. Ever since the late 1990s Dr. Gho has been trying to commercialize similar techniques (to no avail).

    Recently, Dr. Gho patented a version of his procedure and published it in a medical journal for review. This seems to indicate that he has complete confidence in his ability to perform hair transplants that do not exhaust limited donor resources.

    If other doctors can replicate this technique and independently verify that this procedure is viable… we have an unlimited donor source for transplants. If not, well, we’re in the same position we always were.

    For my part, I notified one of the doctors experimenting with ACell about Gho’s procedure. Hopefully (because their research is similar) he will attempt the 2-for-1 process and verify the results.

    All of us (especially those considering transplants) should ask surgeons to attempt to replicate the technique. If they can, great! If not, no big deal, at least we know.

  • ZZ

    Very intersting Shooter. Do you follow Gho’s progress on hairsite also?

  • rev

    The problem with Gho’s tech is that it doesn’t address costs. Hair transplants are far too expensive for the common Joe. Gho’s tech increases the labor involved performing transplants; therefore, it raises graft costs further still.

    Most long-term (ie stabilized) NW3s and lower don’t need to worry too much about their donor supply; a normal HT would suit them just fine. Alternatively, most NW4s and higher won’t be able to afford Gho’s procedure; the grafts involved restoring that level of hairloss would be obscene. For those very reasons I will consider this tech a niche product; it might help Nicolous Cage*, but certainly not a poor Joe like me.

    *I meant his hair, and not his career. His movies suck

  • Shooter

    Rev, I agree and disagree.

    This procedure (if it actually works) will be very expensive for those that need a considerable amount of coverage.

    Nicholas Cage movies do not suck (The Rock, Con-Air, Face Off, Gone in 60 Seconds, the first National Treasure, The Rock again, etc.)!!!

  • ZZ

    Nothing really new but if you want to see something that is kind of exciting, go to Aderans website and check out the clinical trials page……it now has 15 clinical trial sites. Most of them in the midwest to west are open for trial participants in case anyone is interested. And Artista, they have one in Chicago!

  • rev

    Eleanor and Angelina Jolie were the stars of Gone in 60 Seconds, and Sean Connery made The Rock not suck.

    Nicholas Cage brought us such cinemaic delights as GhostRider, Moonstruck, and Face-off. He was also the voice of one of the rats in G-Force.

    ZZ: Now that’s what I’m talking about. Wouldn’t it be nice if Follica could extent us the same courtesy?