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Pharmaceutical Companies Are Brushing Up on Hair-Restorers

From Reuters

Ever since the biblical Samson had his locks shorn by the scheming Delilah, most men have preferred a full head of hair to the alternative.

Now a number of pharmaceutical companies see a chance to grow profits along with hair and are racing to develop a new wave of anti-baldness drugs to compete with the industry’s first offering, Pharmacia & Upjohn Inc.'s Rogaine.

Some of the new remedies are traditional scalp-applied solutions, another is a once-a-day pill, and a small California company is even experimenting with gene therapy to grow hair.

“The industry is growing like you can’t believe,” said Anthony Santangelo, president of the American Hair Loss Council, an industry consultant group.

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About 35 million men and 20 million women in the United States are losing their hair, about 95% of this attributable to the hereditary condition known as male pattern baldness.

Treatments for baldness, ranging from hair transplants to Rogaine to more dubious drugstore and mail-order treatments, represent an $800-million-a-year industry in the United States, the American Hair Loss Council estimates.

Rogaine, launched in 1988, was the first drug approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for hair loss treatment.

London-based Pharmacia and Upjohn started in April to sell the product--a 2% solution of the blood-pressure drug minoxidil--without a prescription. Since then, four other companies have said they are putting generic versions of Rogaine on supermarket and drugstore shelves.

While it had worldwide sales of $124 million in 1995, Rogaine has not been the panacea dreamed about by the hair-impaired for centuries.

Only about 25% of men using Rogaine report moderate to dense hair growth after four months, and just 20% of women see moderate growth after eight months. It must be used for the rest of the person’s life to maintain results.

Whitehouse Station, N.J.-based Merck & Co. Inc., the largest U.S. drug company, is the biggest contender to step into the hair-growth ring so far.

Merck scientists recently told industry analysts that the company planned to file by the end of the year for FDA approval to market Propecia, a drug they say increases hair growth and prevents further hair loss in balding men. Merck says it plans to test Propecia in women later.

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Propecia is a lower-dose form of Proscar, a Merck drug for treating enlarged prostates. Unlike Rogaine, which is applied to the scalp twice a day, Propecia is once-a-day pill, which analysts said could be a major selling point.

Princeton, N.J.-based Life Medical Sciences is developing a product to be applied to the scalp that it hopes to have on the market in Europe in early 1998 and in the United States in 2000.

Researchers began developing the treatment, called Piliel, after they noticed that a wound-healing product the company is developing spurred hair growth when applied to scalp wounds.

Another company, Kirkland, Wash.-based ProCyte Corp., is in the early stages of testing a solution it developed specifically for hair loss. Called Tricomin, it delivers the mineral copper to the scalp, stimulating the formulation of new tissue and blood vessels.

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But scalp tonics and pills are only stop-gap solutions that do not address people’s genetic predisposition to balding.

A small, privately held company in San Diego says it has discovered a method for delivering genes into hair follicles. The company, AntiCancer Inc., said it expects outside scientists to discover within two years the gene or genes responsible for growing hair.


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