Histogen, Back in Startup Mode, Launches Skin Care Products

4/27/09Follow @bvbigelow

Our last installment concerning Histogen ended in a cliffhanger. As I reported in February, Histogen CEO Gail Naughton was scrambling to raise funding after a patent infringement lawsuit was filed against her biotech company by SkinMedica, a rival based in nearby Carlsbad, CA. The lawsuit led a group of angel investors to back away from their planned $2.4 million investment in Histogen, which forced Naughton to lay off all 36 Histogen employees at the end of January.

Undeterred, Naughton is forging ahead. Today a cosmetics division called Histogen Aesthetics is launching its line of ReGenica skin care products for use in anti-aging and to promote healing following chemical peels, dermabrasion, and phototherapeutic laser skin treatments. The company plans to market its new products through dermatologists and plastic surgeons, as well as direct sales from Histogen’s website.

I left a message for SkinMedica CEO Mary Fisher after business hours Friday, after I had learned of Histogen’s plans, but Fisher didn’t get back to me over the weekend. SkinMedica also has targeted the skin care market and sells its TNS Recovery Complex through physicians’ offices. In a statement issued in January, SkinMedica says it acquired two patents in the bankruptcy liquidation of Advanced Tissue Sciences, Naughton’s previous company, that encompass SkinMedica’s NouriCel technology. SkinMedica’s patent infringement lawsuit seeks damages and a court order preventing Histogen from developing aesthetic and therapeutic products that infringe on its patented conditioned cell culture media technology.

Naughton contends that ReGenica products are not infringing on the patents SkinMedica acquired from her previous company. The skincare market must be a lucrative business. A 1.5 oz bottle of Regenica Advanced Rejuvenation System is priced at $99 on the Histogen Aesthetics site.

ReGenica, which is the key ingredient in Histogen Aesthetics’ products, was developed from Histogen’s laboratory expertise in culturing and growing fibroblasts, the cells that form connective tissue. ReGenica is made from fibroblast-secreted proteins, growth factors, and other products. Histogen, meanwhile, is focused on developing therapeutic products, and has been studying whether ReGenica injected into the scalp will stimulate hair regrowth.

Meanwhile, Naughton says she’s managed to raise about $350,000 for Histogen over the past few weeks. But the company still needs about $2 million to resume normal business operations. Naughton says about 18 people who were on Histogen’s payroll in January continue to work almost full-time, even though they’re not getting paid.

In coming weeks, Naughton says, Histogen also plans to report the final results of an early-stage clinical trial that tested ReGenica’s potential to regrow hair on the pates of balding men. In February, Naughton reported preliminary results of the five-month study, which was conducted outside the United States.

“The rest of us are submitting grants and trying to raise money,” Naughton told me Friday evening. “We’re riding out this time until we can get this business going again. Basically, we’re back in startup mode.”

Stay tuned to this Xconomy site for our next episode of the Histogen saga.

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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