By William Payton
William Ju, MD, is a doctor, a scientist, and a businessman. As president and a founding trustee of the nonprofit Advancing Innovation in Dermatology, he is tasked with bringing together angel investors, venture capitalists, physicians, scientists, and others to solve the most vexing challenges in dermatology—sometimes Shark Tank style.
PSP sat down with Ju to discuss the mission of Advancing Innovation in Dermatology, the importance of networking, and what new treatments may be coming down the pike as a result.
Here’s what he had to say:
1) Why did you form Advancing Innovation in Dermatology?
To help catalyze the development of new dermatologic solutions. Its primary aim is to get new tools into the hands of healthcare providers so that they can help patients.
2) What ideas have come from these efforts?
A good example is Topokine, one of our Showcase companies at a recent summit meeting. They are trying to bind a receptor in the skin to reduce eyelid fat and submental fat. This is important because their efforts represent a novel mechanistic approach for localized fat reduction using a topical. Another is Cytrellis, a company which has a very interesting device for skin tightening that aims to be far less invasive than the techniques currently used.
3) Why do you host these summits and conferences?
The goal is to provide a venue for people interested in skin to get together, network, and exchange ideas. We want to reinforce the idea that skin, dermatology, and plastic surgery are good areas for angel investors, venture capitalists, and business development groups.
4) Tell us about the ecosystem you are looking to develop and why it matters.
Product development is a continuum of events involving many parties, from scientists to the US Food and Drug Administration to insurance companies, angel investors, venture capitalists, and so on. There are a lot of moving pieces. You have to bring them all together so they can exchange, partner, and decide what is worth investing in. We are also encouraging entrepreneurship for product innovation in dermatology. For that, we have established a Dermatology Entrepreneurship Conference that will take place in March, which even has its own version of the popular reality show Shark Tank.
5) What are the biggest unaddressed issues in dermatology?
Atopic dermatitis affects many people, and we need more potent but safe therapies, particularly for the cases that are severe and widespread. Acne is another; there are a lot of good drugs for it, but some of them have potent side effects, and we don’t quite cure the disease yet.
6) How is technology changing the practice of dermatology?
Technology is allowing us to meld different fields. For example, Sienna Labs is taking advances in nanoparticles and combining them with advances in lasers to attack acne. Apps, advanced imaging, and photography are also very helpful in the field of dermatology due to the visual nature.
7) What technology are you most excited about?
As time goes on, we understand more and more about what is going on in the skin, and now we have the tools to address the mechanisms at their most fundamental level. For example, researchers at Columbia University recently discovered an immunologic mechanism involved in the cause of alopecia areata, a condition that is often difficult to treat. It turns out that this newly discovered cause of the disorder could be effectively targeted using presently available or newer drugs that are part of the Janus Kinase Inhibitors (JAK) class.
8) What is the Magic Wand Initiative?
Harvard University is piloting it, and Rox Anderson, MD, professor of dermatology and director of the Wellman Center for Photomedicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, and one of the foremost science innovators in our field, is involved. They are looking at which dermatological problems are worth solving and what technologies are out there, and they’re matching the two.
9) What problems is the Magic Wand Initiative looking to solve?
One of the first problems being investigated is how to accurately diagnose cellulitis, a serious condition that is often mistaken for other conditions and vice versa, resulting in many cases of inappropriate treatment.
10) What is the biggest change you have seen in this field?
The biggest change I have seen is the increase in our understanding of the fundamental mechanisms causing skin disorders and diseases, and our ability to take that understanding and come up with therapies. For example, psoriasis, which was once really tough to treat, is now really nicely addressed with ?biologics.
William Payton is a contributing writer for Plastic Surgery Practice magazine. He can be reached via [email protected].