There’s been some buzz on the Web in recent weeks about Follica’s technology for treating one of the most common maladies of aging in men—male pattern baldness. The company, which got its start in offices of PureTech Ventures in Boston in 2006, sheds some light on its internal research in a patent application, published March 17, that involves the use of lithium treatments for stimulating growth of new hair.
But don’t get too worked up about this patent filing. William Ju, the president and CEO of Follica, told me that the recently published patent describes one of multiple areas of research underway at the company. He declined to say specifically at which stage of development the firm was in with the lithium treatment. The patent was filed on September 10, according to an online record, so it’s not really clear from the patent application where exactly this approach stands today in the company’s research and development pipeline.
The patent follows others that have detailed the use of separate compounds for use in treatments to generate new hair follicle growth, including one that included epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) inhibitors. Though the company has said it’s doing human testing overseas, there’s no clear indication from the firm which approaches are showing the most promise in treating baldness or which ones are most advanced.
“We have a variety of programs, both pre-clinically and clinically, to investigate how we can get hair to grow,” Ju said in our recent interview. “This patent is one of the areas we are investigating, and for business reasons, I can’t get into too many of the details.”
In Ju’s defense, it’s not often that biotech startups are asked to comment on patent applications (like the one that covers lithium treatments) that have not been awarded by an authority such as the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. However, Follica has received an uncommon amount of interest from the public compared with most biotech firms we’ve chronicled at Xconomy. It’s clear from the comments on our previous Follica story that the firm’s patent filed on lithium treatments has been a subject of discussion among people who are hoping for a new way to treat baldness.
Indeed, there’s been interest in Follica’s science for several years. Co-founder George Cotsarelis, a dermatologist at the University of Pennsylvania, generated some excitement with his research from mouse experiments that found that stem cells could be mobilized to regenerate the growth of hair follicles. Early this year, Cotsarelis and his colleagues made headlines with their study published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation that showed that hair follicle stem cells were present in scalp samples from bald men, even in areas where hair was sparse. Follica is aiming to harness adult stem cells to grow new hair, and the research confirmed that hair follicle stem cells are present in humans and could be mobilized, according to Ju.
Follica’s website describes a range of conditions that are considered hair follicle disorders, including androgenic alopecia (a common cause of hair-loss on the scalp), excessive hair, acne, and pigmentation disorders. The company has previously told us that they are developing a treatment for pattern baldness that stimulates the re-growth of hair follicles by harnessing a natural wound-healing pathway.
Ju said that his firm expects to reveal findings from its research in traditional forums such as medical meetings and academic journals, yet he declined to give a timeline for such presentations and articles. While it might be frustrating that the company hasn’t dished out many details about its science, give credit to the company for not giving into the temptation to generate hype about its research without the scientific data to justify it.
The company, backed by PureTech, Polaris Venture Partners, and InterWest Partners, has captivated an audience that appears to reach beyond typical biotech industry circles. But the company seems to be sticking to a rigorous scientific approach that is a must for biotechs that want to be credible in the eyes of investors and regulators like the FDA.
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