Few sectors in this province are basking in the glow like life sciences.
In only the last half-decade, billions of dollars in investment have poured in, thousands of specialized jobs have been created, and among its many grand successes has been a clear contribution to the development of the COVID-19 vaccine.
But there are also some ingenious life science collaborations emerging on a different scale – initiatives that, shall we say, touch all of us in a particular way and have an impact on how we feel each day, pandemic or not.
Like: Our hair. A lot of us lose it, quite unhappily.
The development of Xyon Health Inc., led by well-regarded co-founders and clinicians Simon Pimstone and Victor Hasson, is one of the more interesting local biotech firms capitalizing on the sector’s strengths in formulation science and e-commerce.
Hasson and Pimstone have known each other for years; both were South African doctors before moving here. They formed a formal partnership about three years ago. Hasson, of Hasson & Wong (the commercial jingle of “the hair people” is an earworm if you listen to radio), and Pimstone, chair of Eupraxia Pharmaceuticals and current chair and founder of Xenon Pharmaceuticals, bring complementary skills – Hasson in hair restoration, Pimstone in life sciences operations and pharmaceutical development.
They initially financed Xyon themselves, then took in angel investment in 2021 and completed another financing round in 2022. They have also benefited from specific early-stage support from the Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP) of the National Research Council (NRC).
They worked with an Italian pharmacy Hasson had sourced about a decade earlier and they developed a topical gel formulation to apply prescription and non-prescription solutions for male-pattern baldness, which affects one in five men aged 30 and one in two men aged 50. (Pimstone, bald, experienced hair loss in his 20s and admits it’s too late for him to be helped; I admit relief when he tells me I have nothing to worry about.) There are also plans shortly to roll out formulations for women, who can experience hair loss and thinning as they age, particularly through menopause.
As inventors, the intellectual property (IP) of the Pimstone-Hasson collaboration remains here (as they intend to), which is sadly too infrequently the case with advances in technology and science. B.C. has a strong mix of research prowess, institutional support and talent, but too often it all flees the coop when the venture capital swoops.
Xyon’s customer flow is to provide a no-cost medical consultation, and if deemed appropriate, a customized management plan that becomes a subscription. Depending on which plan, the subscription works out to about $100 a month. Like managing any chronic condition, including hair loss, Xyon’s subscriptions typically require long term treatment. Drop it and the hair drops out. As Pimstone points out, “there’s no quick fix for hair loss, but there are approaches that can make a meaningful difference if you choose.”
It is very early days: Xyon has over 1,000 customers and almost 3,000 shipments out the door. In its long path elbow-to-elbow in this very big field, it is important to know its differentiation – how it adds to the science and how it asserts its market relevance.
Xyon’s consumer products include over-the-counter, plant-based shampoo and conditioners available in more than 100 hair salons that target the major culprit in male-pattern hair loss, a form of testosterone known as DHT.
Medications such as finasteride (often known by its brand name, Propecia) work by blocking the production of DHT. The problem with most DHT blocking medications is that they work systemically (meaning in the body) because they are taken as pills. Because of this, men taking oral finasteride may experience side effects, such as loss of libido or erectile dysfunction. Keeping your hair may require a lousy trade-off.
Xyon’s technologies act to more precisely block DHT at the scalp, with the goal of reducing the uptake of ingredients into the body.
Again, early days. The bald truth is that the future could be hairy, or it might be a sweet flow. I just had to say that. Apologies.
Kirk LaPointe is publisher and executive editor of Business in Vancouver and vice-president, editorial, of Glacier Media.