Letter from the Co-Founder & CEO
It’s estimated over 60 million people in the US are losing their hair. At least 20% of them are under the age of 30, and more than 30% of women will experience noticeable hair loss.
Its root causes are diverse, from autoimmune conditions, to long-lasting chemotherapy effects, to scarring and injuries, to genetics and age-related conditions.
Regardless of the cause, for most people, losing their hair hits them very hard emotionally.
When my mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 1997, a battle she eventually lost, she said the initial psychological effect of losing her hair was worse than the sickness she experienced from chemotherapy treatments. Studies show the impact of hair loss on quality of life can be significant and long-lasting, including elevated incidence of depression, loss of self-esteem, and an overall decrease in mental health. The effects of hair loss are particularly acute on young people and women.
And yet, available treatments fall far short of solving this widespread problem. In fact, the last regulatory approved hair loss drug came to market almost 30 years ago – Propecia in 1992. People with hair loss spend billions of dollars each year but are stuck with a few outdated and ineffective treatments. They are forced to choose among four options:
1) Treatment to stop further hair loss (e.g. Propecia)
2) Redistribution of remaining hair follicles through painful hair transplantation surgery
3) Temporary excitement of dying hair follicles (e.g. Rogaine or PRP).
4) Wigs and hair pieces
Frequently, these options don’t provide the desirable effect for patients and do not stop the long-term inexorable process of hair degeneration. None of these “treatments” are capable of generating new hair follicles to replace those that have been lost, which is what patients really want.
Unfortunately, the biotech and pharmaceutical industry have not delivered new solutions nor is the R&D pipeline active in a meaningful way to give people suffering from hair loss the solutions they need. This needs to change.
Thanks to dramatic advances in the science and technology underlying human health and biology, we now have the tools and knowledge to address cellular and tissue degeneration problems, such as hair loss, in a fundamentally different way. The emergence of cell therapy – the infusion of modified cells into a patient to solve the target disease – and our ability to genetically program cells has opened possibilities to cure (dare I say it) degenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s, blindness, Type 1 Diabetes, and yes … hair loss.
It is time to apply these new capabilities to the problem of hair loss. I am proud to have co-founded (with Alexey Terskikh) Stemson Therapeutics to do just that. The company name is derived from a play on words combining stem cells (the foundation of our cell therapy) and the biblical story of Samson, the powerful warrior who lost his superhuman strength after Delilah cut off his hair. Our mission is to develop a therapy capable of growing net new hair follicles by transplanting modified cells into the patient skin, something that has never been achieved before but is now within reach. In delivering such a transformative solution, we expect to restore mental and emotional strength and quality of life for all our future patients.
To be sure, generating hair follicles is an extremely difficult challenge to solve. Controlling and directing live biology is hard. It will involve a multi-disciplinary approach including cellular reprogramming, biomaterial engineering, tissue engineering, machine learning and analysis of biological data, and robotic transplantation solutions.
It will also require significant and on-going investment and support to complete our R&D, conduct human clinical trials, and commercialize the therapy at scale for patients all over the world. The $22.5M we have raised in our first two years is just the start of the investment scope required to get us to the finish line. We are blessed to have support from a powerful investor syndicate of veteran biotech venture funds and pharmaceutical companies. Our investor group of DCVC Bio, Genoa Ventures and AbbVie Ventures not only bring deep expertise in therapeutic development but also offer a strong network of experts to help us bring together the multi-disciplinary team needed to develop our novel solution.
We are well aware the history of false promises, over-hype and failed attempts to develop hair loss solutions. While I cannot yet promise we will succeed, I can project new hope that a serious and highly reputable team of expert scientists, cell biologists, bioengineers, bioinformaticians, biotech executives, biotech investors, and therapeutics developers have come together at Stemson Therapeutics to make an earnest attempt at applying the latest breakthrough technologies in therapeutics to solve hair loss once and for all.
We believe we can do it. We know millions of people are counting on us.
As a colleague once said to me, “Some decisions are not hard decisions. They are just brave decisions.” It is not hard to grasp the value of solving hair loss, but it is a brave decision to join our team to tackle this difficult challenge. To all of our current and future team members, employees, partners, investors and collaborators, I commend you for making a brave decision. It is an honor to be a part of such a talented and dedicated team.
To all of you suffering from hair loss and looking for a solution, stay tuned to Stemson Therapeutics.