Start-up develops cell replacement therapy to ‘make hair loss history’

By Flora Southey

- Last updated on GMT

(Image: Getty/ninitta)
(Image: Getty/ninitta)

Related tags Alopecia start-up Regenerative medicine

Scientists, hair transplant surgeons and patients have collaborated to develop personalised cell replacement therapies for baldness.

HairClone, a start-up made up of experts in the hair loss and regenerative medicine field, was formed to target the most common type of hair loss in men and women, androgenetic alopecia.

Alopecia is caused by affected hair follicles losing their natural regenerative abilities, which causes them to miniaturise and give the appearance of thinning hair.

HairClone’s technology aims to replace those lost cells: “A few of a patient’s non-affected follicles will be harvested in a simple out-patient procedure. Potent cells will be isolated from these follicles, multiplied in the laboratory, and micro-injected into the affected scalp with the intention of rejuvenating the hair shafts, making them thicker and longer,” ​explained the firm.

According to CEO Paul Kemp, the firm is focused initially on men and women who are just beginning to see the effects of hair thinning.

While the cell replacement treatment would not stop the process of miniaturisation, the firm envisions multiple treatments to counter progressive hair loss. “The outcome would hopefully be that the patient’s appearance remains the same – just more and more follicles would be rejuvenated,” ​Kemp told us.

“A later treatment would be follicle regeneration – the creation of new terminal hairs in patients with extensive hair loss,” ​he said.

A patient’s own follicles must be used for two reasons, Kemp continued.

Firstly, allogeneic cells may illicit an immune response. Secondly, “Currently, no one has the ability to expand follicle cells to the numbers needed for an allogeneic cell bank. Considering the amount and cost of testing needed, this would need to be spread over a large number of patients,” ​he said.

According to Kemp, there is “significant data” ​to support the potential of these treatments, adding that his team has the experience to help “make hair loss history”.

The firm will investigate out-licensing the technology, as well as commercialising the therapy itself.

Hair follicle bio-bank

The start-up is also planning the world’s first hair follicle bio-bank, due to launch early next year. The proprietary system is designed to cryopreserve intact follicles for later use – either by HairClone, or other firms.

Why bank hair follicles?

  • Hair follicles, like all tissues, age, and even those not affected by androgenetic alopecia lose cell function. Banking as early as possible is expected to stop ageing.
  • Patients banking hair follicles now, will be first in line for treatment when available.
  • Revenues from banking will be used by HairClone to advance development of the treatment. To reward this, the firm is planning to discount the banking cost from cell isolation and expansion services, when that process is available.

Hair loss developments

Canadian-based RepliCel​ is another firm investigating autologous cell therapy for baldness, and according to Kemp, the formula is very much alike.

“The basic principle of all those in the space is similar,” ​Kemp explained: “Take autologous follicles, isolate and expand cells of interest, and return them to the scalp.”

However, whereas HairClone is focused on just one indication – alopecia – and has several early revenue sources, including banking, clinical partner programmes, and cell expansion services, RepliCel’s business model and target areas differ slightly, we were told.

“RepliCel is a classic biotech with multiple projects in a variety of indications, obtaining funding through equity investments, licensing and carrying out clinical trials,” ​Kemp explained.

“We [HairClone] aim to work with the growing clinical partner network to utilise ‘medical innovation’, enabling the clinicians to work within the regulations to develop the optimum treatment protocol before we embark on expensive and time consuming clinical trials,” ​he told us.

HairClone has plans to launch a crowdfunding campaign to enable potential patients, and others, to invest.

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