dNovo: De Novo Hair Regeneration

A new biotech startup named dNovo is all over the news this week when it comes to the hair loss world. They have already grown reprogrammed human hair on mice.

Update: They raised $2.7 million in seed funding.

dNovo stem cell hair loss cure
Stem cell hair loss cure from dNovo. Proven in mice so far.

I am no longer keen to cover startup hair loss cure related companies that have yet to even commence pre-clinical trials. In all past such cases, we have always been left with major disappointment. Such companies waste years of our time before ending up in situations such as the below:

  • Fail or see minimal results during Phase 2 or Phase 3 clinical trials (e.g., Follicum) despite significant hopes after Phase 1. Then they discontinue further product development. In the case of Histogen and Samumed (Biosplice), 10 plus years of false hopes culminating in the end of their hair loss operations.
  • Cannot raise sufficient funds at some point very late in the process. (e.g., Riken/Tsuji and Intercytex/Aderans).
  • Close down their hair loss program abruptly with no clear explanation (e.g., Aclaris). In many cases, despite decent hair growth results.
  • Keep announcing minor new developments even ten plus years after inception, with no end in sight. e.g., Follica just released a poster.
  • Get involved in licensing and other partnership disputes (e.g., Shiseido/Replicel).

I increasingly feel that most new companies are all money-making schemes to raise investor funds or boost share prices. But the hope for someone legitimate never ends (at least not till I finally shave my head).

dNovo: Hair Growth with Stem Cells

However, for the past three days, dNovo has been in the news every day and several readers commented and e-mailed about the company. “De novo” stands for “anew” or “from the beginning”. i.e., brand new hair follicle formation in this case. Note that there is another company named “denovo hair” (but their site suggests it is no longer in business).

The initial detailed article on dNovo was published in MIT Technology Review. Then came Fortune. Followed by BoingBoing. Today, I finally gave in after Slashdot also got in on the game. The comments underneath their article are funny.

I am covering dNovo despite major reservations. Assuming they even succeed in humans, I do not think that dNovo’s hair cell regeneration product can come to market before 2030. And Stemson will likely beat them to the game.

dNovo Cell Reprogramming Process

dNovos’s lab-grown hair process is outlined on their site in five steps:

  1. Collect human hair cells at their facility. Per several articles, they might even use skin cells and convert them to hair cells.
  2. Add proprietary reprogramming factors.
  3. General hair producing cells.
  4. Seed these cells into the balding recipient’s scalp.
  5. See visible hair growth in 1-3 months post implantation.

As of second quarter 2021, dNovo had successfully developed the reprogramming system to generate human dermal papilla cells (patent pending). These reprogrammed dermal papilla cells perform biochemically as expected of human dermal papilla cells.

At the end of 2020, the company successfully transplanted reprogrammed human hair stem cells onto mice. These then turned into actual human hair (image at the top of this post).

Dr. Ernesto Lujan

dNovo was founded in 2018 by Stanford University educated biologist Dr. Ernesto Lujan. He has a PhD in genetics, and has many other accomplishments per his bio on YCombinator. dNovo’s team consist of PhDs and MDs trained at Stanford, Harvard, and Caltech.

Dr. Lujan was a co-author of a 2012 paper in which his team  converted mouse skin cells into cells that become the three main parts of the nervous system. So it seems like he has been interested in this type of cell reprogramming work for at least ten years.

I love this quote on YCombinator:

“After hair, we envision using our cellular reprogramming technique to make any cell, any tissue or any organ on demand to replace what is lost as we age.”

Per Dr. Lujan (in Fortune magazine):

“We are currently in the preclinical stage of development. We have shown the results in laboratory mice and are very excited with those. We hope to eventually demonstrate the efficacy in human trials and make our product commercially available, but at the moment we are in the early stages of the whole process.”

37 thoughts on “dNovo: De Novo Hair Regeneration”

  1. I’m not holding my breath, but good to see a new company on the “carrot dangling” horizon, before it (quite possibly) sh*ts itself into oblivion. Btw: that poor mouse looks like something out of frigging Star Wars.

  2. When are you going to speak plainly and say it how it is. There is more money to be made from no cure than a cure. That’s how it will always be.

  3. The only (real) good news since years of hairloss is the step forward in xenotransplant. They are already on humans!! I hope we see some more case studies of that in the next years. Then its just a matter of time till the first companies will try it with hair.

      1. Yeah but i did read, that the gene knockout got trained at mice first( they changes to pigs when they knew what they were doing). If they can make pigs they can make mice too and its cheaper and faster to grow. Mice hair are good i guess haha

  4. This seems very promising. Who knows what will ultimately happen, but at least I don’t feel like this is a scam. Reputable scientists and doctors. They seem confident. Yeah, it’s going to take forever…but they just might get there. Maybe by 2030-2035 if they continue to get funding and continue to make progress (we all know how quickly things can fall apart).

  5. Thanks Admin for your voice of reasoning. I think it‘s important to remain skeptical and to let those guys feel that they‘re gonna be looked at very closely – just deliver results and everybody is happy.

    The orchestrated press releases appear dubious to me, that’s just too obvious.

    I am more and more happy and grateful for the professionalism of Stemson. Still the best card in our deck, by far. I wouldn’t be surprised if they come up with a trial announcement sooner than later.

  6. Ok if 15 years away then…gosh I am 39, a woman. I had the most beautiful hair of my whole family till age 20, people would literally stop me in the streets to tell me how beautiful my hair was…now i have short hair i can still hide it…my GYN wants me to stop the pill that allowed me to maintain what I have for 20 years : her argument i am 40 I can’t no longer take oestrogens …i hate that… I hate everything, if my hairloss starts to show i will just suffer a major depression.

    1. Have you tried hair fibers? They work wonders for me. I am a diffuse thinner and with so little hair on the top you can actually call me bald. But with the fibers I can hide it so well that just anybody believes I have a full head of hair.

  7. We need a friendly virus that will make EVERYONE lose their hair, then we have solved this damn problem once and for all.

  8. Thank you, Admin. I sincerely appreciate that I can always see the latest developments by stopping by this one website each week. Also, it’s good you have a healthy skepticism, but I agree this one looks more legit :-)

  9. More than a virus a bacterium, a bacterium able to counteract hair loss through chemical signals. Do you know if anyone has ever looked at such a possibility?

    1. Wow. Very detailed. I like how they admitted mice aren’t great to work on and that pig skin is closest to human skin. They sound relatively close to human trials (really hard to say but I think he hinted human trials are after the pig trials?) and the science sounds solid. It wasn’t a salesman pitch. Obviously, it’s not going to be here tomorrow….but sounds pretty promising.

      1. Yea so it sounds like they can get series b funds either later this year it 1st half of next year and then use them for human trials.

  10. Hello admin,

    Hope all is well. Quick question. Would you say in general, the covid pandemic has delayed the progress of getting some of these cell therapy hair loss treatments to market?

    Ex. Riken/Tsuji etc.

  11. Can you try to reach this scientist and do an interview with him?

    Let’s hear more about him, his company, his team, his plans…

  12. I think anyone saying “there’s no hope because there’s more money to be made with no cure than a cure” is completely wrong. Maybe companies producing fin or min right now are enjoying the cushy position of being the only ones producing drugs that do *anything*, but every single person losing or trying to maintain hair is part of a multi-multi-billion market ripe for disruption.

    As soon as a lab or company figures out an effective cure or treatment that’s affordable, that’s game over for every institution enjoying this bleak situation. Unless you literally believe there’s an backroom group squashing every conceivable cure operating in the shadows, a cure will come. Say whatever you want about the current state of the western world, but a free market encourages precisely this kind of disruption.

    Besides, I’m sure many members of the hair illuminati who desperately want a cure too.

    1. I’ve always said that. There’s a ton of money on finding a cure (potentially, anyway). It’s one reason I’m surprised it hasn’t happened already, though I think it’s all been about timing; the science had to be there and now it is. I think it’s only a matter of time. Things aren’t moving as fast as we’d like but they are moving pretty steadily.

  13. I believe we ve been looking in the wrong place.
    The problem is not the seed (the hair)
    The problem is in the soil (the scalp environment –>the overgrowth of sebum glands and sebum attracting bacteria causing inflammation/fibrosis and hair fall

    Sebum is controlled by DHT and androgen.

    B vitamins controls sebum production.
    Eating grains and sugar blocks vitamin B absorption.

    I ve removed grains and sugar
    And ve been taking 1 gram of vitamin b complex + high dose of vitamin d3 and my hair stopped falling at all…

    Also i ve been using Quercetin topical extract from red onion skin

  14. I hope that any treatment will lead to the treatment of other much more serious and often fatal diseases. The world of cells as a medical treatment is relatively new …

    1. Thanks Lorence, but I was waiting for the “However” in the article.

      “…However, even Stemson’s own CEO Geoff Hamilton admits it’s too soon to say whether the success of these animal studies will translate to people”.

      (Surprise us Geoff).

  15. All of these autologous cell therapies are hard or impossible to distinguish, apart from the fact that they purport to hold big promise with a very simple narrative, which to me just seems to good to be true. I’m placing my cards on small molecule drugs.

  16. Does anyone know what happened to Follica? They seem to be on endless Phase III trials – “Pilot,” “Optimization,” “Registration,” etc. They were suppose to begin their next “registration trial” (whatever that means – they never call it a “Phase III trial,” which is disappointing) in the summer of 2020, but didn’t. With lots of derms offering needling and cheap needle pens available everywhere, I wonder if they’ve given up.

    1. Forget Follica, it‘s all smokes and mirrors and as soon as you realize it you understand their game.

      It’s about gathering additional funds to finance the “operation” but not to advance the product.

      Which itself is probably not a scam, but too weak to justify a market release.

  17. All most need is simply a breezula or a good topical AA. Just keeping hair is worth a 1000 regrowth cures that never pan out. its critical to get a good AA that maintains. propecia is quite dangerous and unsafe IMO to take long term.

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