Harnessing the Human Microbiome: A Personalized Approach to Skin Health

Lada Rasochova, Ph.D., MBA, Founder and CEO of Dermala, wants everyone to understand the skincare industry’s preconceived notion of “one size fits all” is now undergoing a major makeover.

A Ph.D. scientist by training with a focus in microbiology, Dr. Rasochova saw firsthand how traditional products used to treat common skin conditions like acne did not work for everyone. She was inspired to apply her knowledge and passion by developing a unique approach to skin health that placed a greater emphasis on utilizing nature – the human microbiome – to bring scientific discoveries from the lab to market, and ultimately provide better potential solutions for consumers.

As a longtime resident of JLABS @ San Diego graduating this year, we had the chance to sit down with Dr. Rasochova to reflect on the company’s origins and vision for transforming the future of skincare.

Looking back to Dermala’s early years, what was the inspiration behind starting the company?

At the time, I had been involved in the pharmaceutical industry for a number of years where I also focused on finding new treatments for common skin diseases and conditions like acne. Though rarely emphasized, acne is one of the most prevalent skin conditions in the world, affecting nearly 85% of the population[i], and yet I felt like I wasn’t seeing treatments that took into consideration the individual’s personal needs.

I decided to apply my background in microbiology to focus on developing a science-based solution for acne that was inspired by nature. Around this same time, the general knowledge of human microbiome science began to expand and I realized that a personalized, microbiome-based approach to anti-acne treatments had the potential to offer improved results while reducing unwanted side effects.

I took this knowledge and started Dermala, leveraging a microbiome technology developed at UC San Diego. We joined JLABS @ San Diego shortly after, where we continued to build upon our science and understanding of the microbiome with the goal to deliver better potential solutions for consumers.

More than ever, we’re seeing an increasing consumer demand for skin health solutions that are tailored to the individual’s personal needs. Why do you think we’re seeing this shift? What does this mean for Dermala?

Sometimes a traditional over-the-counter product will work like a charm for one person and not for the other, even if those two people look similar. We are all truly unique, and that translates itself into acne as well. Consumers want treatments that are created with this in mind.

Buying habits are also changing as online shopping continues to increase. The teenagers and young adults who are among those most affected by acne[i] have grown up with the internet, so an online direct-to-consumer company like Dermala has the opportunity to feel familiar to them.

From the very beginning, our goal as a company was to help answer some of the unmet medical needs in acne. We’ve done this by combining human microbiome science with our propriety data analytics platform, enabling us to identify product formulations that we feel deliver the best results for the customer’s individual needs. Through this technology, the customer can track their skin health, which allows us to continuously optimize the formula, tailoring to their specific needs.

This personalization and optimization help us provide better potential solutions for our customers so they can feel healthy, confident and happy in their own skin, which is the foundation Dermala was built upon.

As a longtime resident of JLABS @ San Diego, how has being part of the community helped Dermala grow?

I think one of the biggest advantages of joining Johnson & Johnson Innovation - JLABS is the fully equipped lab space. Not only did this offer the perfect location for Dermala, but it provided nearly every resource we could have needed on a level that would have been otherwise costly or difficult to come by as a start-up.

Johnson & Johnson Innovation’s involvement in the consumer skin health and dermatology space also gave us better access to connect with experts who we could consult with at various stages of our research and science. This collaborative experience made all the difference in accelerating Dermala’s move from bench to product development and market.

For example, through Johnson & Johnson Innovation - JLABS we learned about Johnson & Johnson Innovation’s Quick Pitch competition at the 2020 Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas. We were selected as one of nine companies to pitch and as a result, directly engaged with more than twenty experts from across Johnson & Johnson Innovation and Consumer R&D leadership.

The financing support we received last year from Johnson & Johnson Innovation – JJDC, Inc., one of the lead investors in our Series A Preferred Stock financing, is a testament to the strength of our relationship with the broader J&J organization. As we graduate from JLABS @ San Diego, we look forward to using this funding to continue growing and scaling Dermala in our home of San Diego to reach even more customers in need.

It’s fair to say that fellow start-ups will be inspired by Dermala’s growth and success as a company. Do you have any advice for those scientists and entrepreneurs early on in their journey?

At any company, your team is one of the most important catalysts of success. Surround yourself with a team that has diverse skill sets and expertise so that you can hear others’ perspectives, even if it sometimes contradicts with your own. The key is to listen and make informed decisions for yourself.

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[i] https://www.aad.org/media/stats-numbers