Interview With Dr. Bryan B. Fuller, CEO of DermaMedics In Oklahoma

Dr. Bryan B. Fuller, CEO of DermaMedicsThe innovation of natural ingredients in skin care with Dr. Bryan Fuller, founder of DermaMedics.

Name: Bryan B. Fuller Ph.D.
Company: DermaMedics Professional
Location: Oklahoma City, OK

That's interesting: In addition to his research on human pigmentation, Dr. Fuller has spent many years investigating the cellular events involved in skin inflammation and inflammatory diseases. Research in his laboratory has focused on identifying novel botanically-derived chemicals for use in topical therapeutics to treat inflammatory skin conditions. This work has led to the development and commercialization by two international skin care companies of clinically tested topical skin care products that contain natural ingredients that are effective in reducing skin inflammation.

What prompted your move out of academia to become an entrepreneur?

I have always felt that university research should be “translational”, that is, the objective of the research should be to discover something that can be developed into a product or method to help people. In this regard, my research at OU Hlth Sci Ctr, had always focused on biochemistry of the skin, and when my father developed severe psoriasis, and could not find any prescription products that could help long-term, I got fascinated with the idea of doing drug discovery research to identify new chemical compounds that could block the inflammatory response involved in psoriasis as well as most other skin diseases, and inflammation associated with radiation burns in cancer patients. When I was successful in discovery phytochemicals (plant-derived chemical compounds) that were safe and gentle and very effective in treating many skin problems, I realized I wanted to stay involved in seeing that technology commercialized. I didn’t just want to license the technology out and hope it would be commercialized; I wanted to be an integral part of its commercialization by forming a company and maintaining an active role in running the company. I couldn’t do that as a full time professor so I left the university and my tenured position behind and started my company. 

You've stated that you're trying to build a 'different kind of skin care company'. What advantages do you have in such a competitive market and what are you doing to capitalize on them?

Unlike most skin care companies that use common, “off the shelf” cosmetic ingredients, like retinol, vitamin C, alpha hydroxy acids, green tea, etc. to build a skin care product line. DermaMedics started its existence in a university research laboratory conducting cellular and molecular biology research with a singular purpose; to identify phytochemicals (botanically derived chemical compounds) that could be used topically to address the number one problem in Dermatology, INFLAMMATION. Almost all skin diseases are inflammation based, and skin aging is also inflammation based. Finally, many cosmetic and medical dermatology procedures, such as LASER re-surfacing, chemical peels, or removal of actinic keratosis cause inflammation and discomfort. We are a “different kind of skin care company” because we develop technology and products that focus on improving the appearance of skin damaged by inflammatory skin diseases and by aging. Other companies focus primarily on building products to improve the appearance of an aging skin without addressing the underlying cause of aging, which is inflammation. We sell our products exclusively to medical professionals; we don’t sell directly to consumers. By limiting our sales to medical professionals we can spend the time necessary to educate them about the science behind the products and about which products should be used on a patient with a given skin problem. Because our products work rapidly to improve the appearance of a patient’s skin, a medical office can visually determine the effectiveness of our products in days, not weeks or months. We capitalize on the unique technology and speed of efficacy of our products to open up accounts in medical offices. We don’t feel we compete with any other skin care company because we focus on providing physicians with products that provide better patient care, not products that may or may not have temporary anti-aging benefits. 

Where are the most promising areas of research in cosmetic skin care? Are there any areas that look especially promising or that you think are over-hyped?

I think one the biggest need in skin care is a focus on prevention of skin damage at an early age, even in young adults, and not wait until the signs of damage occur. I am pleased to see that consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the need to protect the skin at an early age from UVR to reduce the inflammatory events that lead to skin aging and skin cancer. The most promising areas of development to address skin protection are:

  1. new UVA absorbers in sunscreens (since over 80% of the UVR from the sun hits the earth as UVA , and since UVA penetrates the skin more deeply than UVB and causes aging damage) 
  2. new antioxidant and free radical scavengers (including spin traps) to not only prevent free radical damage caused by UVR, but free radicals produced by other environmental stressors, 
  3. preventing glycation events in the skin and in doing so preventing the production of  AGE (Advanced Glycation End products that lead to high levels of free radical production
  4. research into oral supplements that are more bioavailable and can reach the dermis and epidermis to halt inflammation and to reverse aging events., and
  5. identifying botanically derived chemical compounds, such as curcumin and quercetin, that have anti-inflammatory therapeutic value when applied to skin. 

One area that is “over-hyped” is the development of skin care products that contain “growth factors”. It is well-known that growth factors are extremely unstable to room temperature and aqueous environments, and in fact, growth factors in water are only stable for 7 days at refrigeration temperatures. Thus, products that are sitting on a shelf at room temperature that are reported to contain growth factors almost certainly contain degraded, inactive growth factors. Further, there is no scientific evidence that growth factors can penetrate the stratum corneum and get to the dermis to produce “anti-aging benefits”. In fact, there is a lot of scientific evidence that no molecule larger in size than 500 mw can penetrate into the skin (see (Bos JD, Meinardi MMHM. The 500 Dalton rule for the skin penetration of chemical compounds and drugs. Exp Dermatol. 2000; 9:165–169.). 

It is possible that some larger molecules may diffuse down into hair follicles, but since these structures represent less than 1% of the skin’s surface area, this is not a route of delivery that will produce any significant skin benefits.  Since all growth factors are larger than 6000 molecular weight, even if some are not degraded during the time they are sitting on a shelf, none are going to penetrate into the skin. In fact, no protein such as collagen or elastin, peptide, growth factor, enzyme, hyaluronic acid, or any compound larger than 500 molecular weight is going to get down into the skin when applied topically. 

Another area that is likely “over-hyped” is research into gene profiling to identify aging genes. In regard to the skin, much is already known about the genes that have to be stimulated (e.g. collagen, elastin, hyaluronic acid synthase [HAS-2] and those that have to be inhibited (e.g. inflammatory cytokine genes, COX-2 gene, MMP genes) to produce anti-aging effects on the skin. Trying to identify a specific gene profile that can predict whether a person ages more rapidly than another person, is likely going to be of very limited value in terms of product development. 

You're on the Editorial Board of the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology as well as five professional medical societies. Where do you see skin care moving and is there any topical treatments that have the possibility of displacing current medical technologies?

I’m convinced that it is possible to develop topical skin care products that can have prescription level therapeutic efficacy in treating common skin problems such as rosacea, acne, psoriasis and eczemas and which can be used long-term, without the potential side effects of current prescription drugs. Prescription drugs such as topical steroids, Protopic and Elidel all have potential negative side effects, including immunosuppression and skin thinning. Nature has given us a wide variety of plant-based chemicals, such as curcumin, quercetin, and bisabolol, that have anti-inflammatory and healing properties and which do not suppress the immune system. 

What’s the worst decision you ever made as an entrepreneur and what did you learn from it?

The worst decision I ever made as an entrepreneur was trying to start a company that was underfunded and which was funded by only one investor. The common mistake a lot of young companies make is to raise just enough capital to develop the technology and maybe enough to develop a product, but not enough capital to take a product  to market with an adequately funded sales and marketing approach and with a PR effort that is sufficient to establish credibility and brand recognition. 

What's the best business advice you ever received as an entrepreneur?

The best advice I’ve received was probably that the best technology in the world will fail in the marketplace unless the right marketing approach is used. So before one develops a product to take to the market it is critical to know:1) what unmet need exists for that product, and 2) what marketing approach will work to quickly reach the consumer who needs it. 

Also, I was told once that a company’s success depends, in large part, on the experience of its management team, and that was good advice. 

About: Dr. Fuller received his B.S. degree from The University of Michigan and his Ph.D. in Cell Biology and Biochemistry from the University of Arizona specializing in molecular endocrinology. Dr. Fuller was a professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Oklahoma Health Science Center for over 20 years until he recently retired to devote his full energies to DermaMedics. He still retains an Adjunct Professor position at OUHSC and continues to teach medical students.

For over 25 years, Dr. Fuller has conducted research on the structure and function of human skin. He is one of the leaders in the field of human skin pigmentation and has done extensive research to determine how hormones and sunlight alter the growth and pigmentation in both normal human skin melanocytes and in melanoma, a deadly form of skin cancer. His discovery of hormones and hormone-like chemicals that can stimulate pigment synthesis in human skin and those that can inhibit pigmentation and therefore lighten skin has resulted in the issuance of 11 U.S. patents as well as 5 additional patent applications and additional international patents.

Dr. Fuller has conducted research and has served as a consultant to many skin care companies including Johnson & Johnson, Procter and Gamble, Unilever, Upjohn, Nu Skin, and Wella. His research has received support from the NIH, NSF, Procter and Gamble, and Wella, AG. Dr. Fuller has authored numerous peer-reviewed scientific articles on pigmentation and inflammation, as well as additional articles and reviews on the development of topical products for regulating pigmentation and controlling inflammation. Dr. Fuller sits on the Editorial Board of the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology and is a member of 5 professional societies including the American Academy of Dermatology, the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, the Society of Investigative Dermatology, the American Society for Cell Biology, the PanAmerican Society for Pigment Cell Research, and the Endocrine Society.

Dr. Fuller's vision for DermaMedics is to create a different kind of skin care company; one that utilizes the most advanced molecular biology research techniques available to identify novel botanically-derived "actives" to treat inflammatory skin problems and skin aging. These ingredients are then incorporated into topical skin therapeutics and tested to make sure that they perform at a pharmaceutical level of efficacy. Dr. Fuller's goal is to build DermaMedics into an internationally recognized company that produces patented and proprietary pharmaceutical quality therapeutic products. The proprietary products already developed by DermaMedics have been shown to work rapidly to improve skin appearance and they outperform any competitor product on the market.

This interview is part of a series of interviews of physicians running medical spas, laser clinics and cosmetic surgery centers. If you'd like to be interviewed, just contact us.