GV backs hair loss biotech out of UCLA with PhII set for mid-2024

By Kyle LaHucik

Pelage CMO Christina Weng (L) and CEO Daniel Gil (Image courtesy: Pelage Pharmaceuticals)

This article was originally published by Endpoints News

Pelage Pharmaceuticals, a Los Angeles-based hair loss biotech based on research out of UCLA, has reeled in a $16.75 million Series A and plans to start a mid-stage trial later this year.

GV led the financing, which also included funds from Main Street Advisors, Visionary Ventures and YK Bioventures. Pelage is developing a topical drug called PP405, and a Phase I study showed that it helped activate hair follicle stem cells after seven days of treatment and had no adverse events, chief medical officer Qing Yu Christina Weng said in an interview.

The hair loss market has long been dominated by the nowgeneric drugs minoxidil and finasteride — and everything from neutraceuticals, low-level light therapy helmets and hair transplantation.

Hair loss wasn’t in GV’s wheelhouse when the Alphabet venture arm first looked, said Cathy Friedman, board member and GV executive venture partner, in an interview.

“We are really into innovative founders doing disruptive technology, so we were thinking it would be more of a metoo thing,” Friedman said. “The more we got into it, we realized it was really a regenerative medicine company, and it’s just a completely different kind of company dealing with hair loss.”

Pelage CEO Daniel Gil was once an executive at Allergan, whose drug Botox dominated a corner of the cosmetic therapy market. He said there’s been a lack of innovation in hair loss that presented an opportunity.

“We had always been surveying the hair growth landscape quite a bit, and this was a technology that we really liked at that time,” Gil said in a separate interview.

According to UCLA, AbbVie-owned Allergan had an option to buy the biotech, which was founded in 2018. “Prior to our IND, Pelage and AbbVie amicably decided to terminate the option,” Gil said in a statement. An AbbVie spokesperson also told Endpoints News via email that the companies “have amicably decided to terminate the option.”

Other biotechs in the hair loss field include autologous cell therapy maker Stemson Therapeutics, RepliCel, Amplifica, Epibiotech, Hope Medicine (working with IP from Bayer) and Kintor, among others. Kintor’s shares cratered after a Phase III failure of its topical last year.

“Instead of targeting secondary source of hair loss like hormones, we’re really able to target it at the source at the stem cells themselves, through this metabolic switch that’s able to turn on stem cell activation in these dormant hair follicles,” Weng said.

Since hair growth drugs don’t treat a life-threatening disease, safety will be top of mind in clinical studies. Gil said PP405 is designed to be concentrated in the scalp and not in the blood.

“We were able to show in a Phase I study that basically we couldn’t measure any drug levels in the blood, so levels were below detection,” the CEO said.

A Phase IIa, planned for the middle of this year, will test PP405 in men and women with androgenetic alopecia, or pattern baldness, Weng said. Friedman noted the endpoints will be at three to six months and treatment will last four weeks. The trial will be conducted in the US, Weng said, with a readout in 12 to 18 months.

Friedman noted the potential is in both men and women, and “if it works, will be for all different kinds of hair, all different ethnicities.” The Series A will fund Pelage through the Phase IIa, Gil said. Pelage is named after the French word for fur. UCLA researchers William Lowry, Heather Christofk and Michael Jung co-founded the biotech.