How Inventions Become Innovations

A Case Example of Product Development from the MGH Wellman Center for Photomedicine

Sebacia Inc was founded out of the laboratory of Rox Anderson, Prof of Dermatology at the Wellman Center for Photomedicine at MGH. Prof Anderson is the author of more than 60 US patent filings, and seeks to train more researchers as “problem-seeking missiles”. Facial acne is a scourge of adolescence that has more than a cosmetic impact on the affected. Despite the multi-billion dollar industry built to address it, the most effective treatments carry a substantial burden of adverse effects. While there are thousands of products available, they are all based on a small set of active pharmaceutical ingredients. Dr. Anderson and colleagues knew from extensive experience that near-infrared wavelength lasers could penetrate skin to deliver light energy beneath the surface where it is converted to heat. He conceived a new treatment strategy whereby energy is delivered selectively to the sebaceous gland while sparing the surrounding tissue from thermal damage. Clinicians, engineers, and biologists in his lab hatched the idea to place a particle into the skin follicle that would act as a selective absorber of laser light near to the sebaceous glands. Specially constructed gold-coated microscopic silica particles were found to have all the desired physical properties, and that material was formulated into a lotion that could be applied to the skin with massage to drive the particles into the follicles. Particles were then in position to deliver a knock-out punch to the nearby sebaceous gland while sparing innocent tissue. Excess particles are easily wiped away from the skin surface.In 2008, a group called The Invention Factory [TIF], a highly experienced team of biomedical engineers based in Atlanta, reached out to Dr. Anderson as part of their search for novel enabling technology in the acne therapy space. TIF formed Sebacia as a new venture based on foundational IP from MGH combined with additional IP for light-absorbing nanoparticles from Rice University. PIF, also newly formed at that time, joined a syndicate of well-established venture capital groups to fund the first in a series of equity rounds to support the company through product development. Sebacia’s strategy was to target dermatologists who would administer the treatment in their office with a standard laser already owned by the practice. They have created a package of scientifically rigorous clinical studies to impress physicians with strong performance data. These studies demonstrate 80% reduction of lesions by a course of 3 treatments over 3 weeks in combination with widely available skin care products. The treatment results show lasting effect out to the study limit at 12 months. Sebacia has received FDA and European regulatory approval and the product will be available soon in both US and Europe. Dermatologists are excited to have a new procedure based on a novel principle of action that they can deliver in their office with comparable efficacy to systemic drugs but without the safety concerns or compliance issues. Sebacia is currently raising a new round of investment to support scale-up and commercialization. The reward for the risk of that investment will come in the form of patient satisfaction with superior outcomes as well as economic returns for investors providers, Sebacia employees, inventors and their host research institutions. The Sebacia story is still being written and we are betting on a happy ending.

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