Ah Southern California, the land of movie stars, glamor, and beauty. A paradise of botox, silicone, and saline. A perfect incubator for a cure for baldness. Maybe.
Several new scientific studies have cropped up in recent months with tantalizing results that suggest researchers are narrowing in on the mechanism that makes hair start growing. At UC Irvine, Maksim Plikus’s research showed that a molecule called SCUBE3 can stimulate new hair growth in mice when injected into the skin. An hour north, at UC Riverside, complementary research by Qixuan Wang is delving into the same mechanics.
Both groups are focusing on a receptor in hair follicle cells called TGF-β, which plays several roles in virtually every tissue in the body. Critically, the receptor is involved in deciding when cells divide and die. By stimulating these proteins correctly–with the right molecules, in the right concentrations, at the right time–researchers are beginning to reactivate dormant hair follicles in mice.
These therapies have a long road ahead of them before they’re available in your local pharmacy. But that hasn’t stopped Plikus from co-founding Amplifica Holdings group with the intent of doing just that. Any treatment using SCUBE3 is probably 2-3 years away from human trials, but the company has other hair-loss therapy compounds in the pipeline that might be ready for human trials sometime next year, says CEO Frank Fazio. Amplifica is keeping its cards extremely close to the vest for now, and wouldn’t say anything about what type of molecule they’re using or how it works. Fazio would only say that the company is “laser-focused” on hair loss.
“We have two compounds that are going to be studied with the hopeful intent of actually having an impact on hair growth and hair restoration,” he said. More information should be available soon, however: Fazio says Plikus has new research that’s under review in “a prestigious journal” which should give some insight into what Amplifica is targeting with these first drugs.
The company is in the process of raising a $10 million Series A to get operations off the ground and transition it out of research and development and into clinical trials. In addition to potentially treating disorders like alopecia areata and regrowing hair in scar tissue, Plikus estimates that the hair loss market could be worth $12 billion by 2025.
There are several existing drugs on the market already, but they come with long term side effects and aren’t universally effective. Ninety percent of new drugs fail in clinical trials, but if Amplifica succeeds, the drugs could be life-changing and the return on investment massive.
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