Follica Chases Cut-Above Hair Growth Treatment

A new startup called Follica seeks to one-up pharma powerhouses Johnson & Johnson and Merck by developing a new hair-growth treatment that helps form new hair follicles. Red Herring reported last week findings from a study that shows this is possible through a common protein called WNT, which Follica’s founding scientists say is a big improvement over current treatments like Rogaine and Propecia which work to preserve already existing hair versus actually creating new follicles.

“Armed with their scientific discovery, the Follica team hopes to develop a process by which they can gently wound the skin of a bald patient and apply a topical cream containing WNT in order to stimulate the growth of new hair follicles,” explains Red Herring. “The scientists believe they can also block hair growth by applying a separate compound to the wounded skin.”

Follica is being backed by PureTech Ventures, which says that treatments for follicle conditions, including hair loss, acne, and pigmentation issues, account for an annual market of over $10 billion, despite a lack of truly effective solutions. And the Boston-based firm believes multiple forces are converging to create even greater opportunity. According to PureTech’s Web site, consumers and physicians alike are embracing aesthetic medicine at an unprecedented rate: The number of U.S. aesthetic/cosmetic surgical procedures increased from 2.1 billion in 1999 to 8.3 billion in 2003; patients today spend approximately $12 billion a year on cosmetic surgery and facial rejuvenation. Still, says PureTech, existing treatments for follicle disorders like hair loss and acne have issues with efficacy, safety, or both, and the development of new treatments has not kept pace with this increased appetite for aesthetic treatment.

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