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When Beauty Meets Biotech

By: Marie Alice Dibon
Posted: September 3, 2009, from the September 2009 issue of GCI Magazine.

page 5 of 6

“Our first application in early development, 2001–2003, was oriented toward pharma,” explains Renaud Nalin, LibraGen’s CEO. “We knew that the time needed to see any kind of ROI was very long. To optimize our business strategy, we started looking at other markets; that is how we came up with specialty chemistry and cosmetics. For fine chemistry, our market is very similar to the pharmaceutical chemistry market. For cosmetics, there was a lot we could do with our green chemistry, which is our specialty. We developed a line of compounds for skin care that would help us break into the market and sell further custom development projects.”

One of LibraGen’s assets was the ability to find a development partner early on, and work with YSL Beauté to develop its first modified polyphenol. The line of products currently available is constituted by polyphenols grafted with a sugar group—improving stability, solubility and bioavailability. The partnership was first approached in January 2008, and distribution partners entered the picture in April of that year—highlighting the potential of a biotech/beauty opportunity to take off when the opportunity is properly executed.

Revance Therapeutics, Inc., a biopharmaceutical company dedicated to developing the next generation of innovative products in dermatology and aesthetic medicine, is another example of a biotech company that advanced its platform through marketing its products and capabilities to the beauty industry. In its case, the discovery of the technology was incidental. The research team, during the early stages of the company’s history, was working on transcutaneous technologies for cardiology. The idea was to make stents more efficient. When looking at its results, the company realized that it had triggered the production of elastin in adults, typically dormant after young adulthood. The company looked at the IP landscape in dermatology, and saw that there hadn’t been a lot of innovation since retinoin and the latest psoriasis compounds.

Revance, unlike many other biotech companies, developed a full-blown product line—backed and leveraged by consumer tests, a communications strategy, etc. The company is atypical in that it has really done the homework for those beauty companies that it is now approaching with its technology. Revance has existing sales, packaging, a name ... even beauty awards. Eye Silk, part of its Relastin line, received the Allure Beauty Award two years in a row.

Niqui Hunt, the company’s vice president of marketing and business development, has a background in the beauty industry coupled with seven years in medicine and medical devices. Her time spent at P&G allowed her to leverage a knowledge of how the industry functions, but she did get culture shock when coming back to the cosmetics arena, via innovation sourcing. “When I went back to [the beauty industry] through Revance, I was surprised by what I encountered,” she says. “The industry seems somewhat schizophrenic when dealing with [biotech]. People are very impressed with the science, but even though we are not a start-up company and bring a lot to the table, they can’t make a decision. They have so much coming their way that the initial screening is left to people who sometimes are not senior enough to sort through all the really interesting opportunities. It is really difficult to get in touch with people who [are] likely to take a risk on a given opportunity. They will go for less novel but maybe better substantiated solutions. Yet, innovation is defined by risk level. They would prefer to [forego risk] as opposed to creating a breakthrough compound. Breakthrough is just not rewarded,” said Hunt.