A relative newcomer on the dermatology scene is photodynamic therapy (or PDT), which uses a combination of light and photosensitive pharmaceuticals to treat skin issues and detect cancerous tumors without having to rely on painful procedures that were invented in the Dark Ages. This, says Terry Conrad, president of PhotoCure U.S., is the way of the future.
PhotoCure, a Norway-based pharmaceutical company specializing in dermatology treatment and cancer detection, first opened its U.S. office in the Overlook Center in 2010. The company, however, has recently relocated to 202 Carnegie Center, where it employs six permanent staff and as many as six more on-call sales staff at any given time. Many of the company’s American salespeople are based remotely around the country, Conrad says.
Conrad says PhotoCure picked Princeton as its first U.S. office for the obvious reason — Princeton is the heart of the world’s pharmaceutical industry. It’s also close to the general life sciences hub that exists between Boston and Washington, D.C., and it is close enough to the airports that offer flights to and from Oslo.
PhotoCure’s U.S. arm was established partially to help promote the company’s latest innovation, Allumera, a topical cream launched last year used in conjunction with PDT for improving the appearance of skin. The substance is the first photodynamic cosmetic agent on the market in the United States. It is not a drug, Conrad says. Allumera is intended to replace certain cosmetic practices, such as chemical peels, by minimizing recovery time and being less traumatic on the skin.
“We’re trying to reduce ‘down time,’” Conrad says. “It’s a step up from chemical peels and a step prior to laser technology and invasive treatment.”
How it works is a bit like how photographic film works. Light activates a specific chemical reaction. In the case of PDT, the chemical, either a drug or a chemical solution, reacts to treat the skin (or cancerous area) without doctors having to perform surgery. Photocure also is developing Visonac, a new option for treating moderate to severe acne.
In the cancer area, PhotoCure is the developer of Cysview, which is used in the detection of tumors in the bladder. Cysview has been marketed in Europe and South Korea under the name Hexvix. It improves tumor detection by generating red fluorescence that shows up during cystoscopy. Cysview isn’t itself a treatment for bladder cancers, however. But it does allow doctors using light technologies to more easily spot cancerous tumors in bladders, where they are notoriously hard to find.
More advanced cancers, such as stomach or intestinal cancers, often start in the bladders and migrate. And even when they’re found and treated, Conrad says, there is often a recurrence of tumors. “Cysview can detect them completely,” he says. “The chance of recurrence is much lower.”
As the president of PhotoCure U.S., Conrad oversees the dermatological aspect. The head of the company’s cancer products is Ambaw Bellete, the former president of MCS Inc. and a longtime vice president and business operations chief at Sanofi-Aventis. PhotoCure’s research and development happens at its Oslo headquarters; the U.S. office is mostly involved in sales, marketing, and brand building.
Conrad has been in the pharma game for more than 20 years. A native of Minneapolis, where most of his family still lives, Conrad grew up in what he calls “modest means.” Though his father was in sales, Conrad himself is the first member of his family to have graduated from college, and the only one who has left Minnesota.
Conrad says he, straight from school, wanted to combine his interest in pharma with his love of business. In 1985 he earned his bachelor’s in chemistry from St. John’s University. Two years later he earned his masters in pharmaceutical marketing from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.
In 1992 he joined the marketing division at Lederle International in Wayne, then moved onto marketing and business operations at Bayer, Parke-Davis, and Merz Pharmaceuticals, where he was named president and CEO in 2000.
In 2008 Conrad founded Branthan Laboratories, in North Carolina, where he stayed until 2010, when he joined PhotoCure to help build its dermatology business in the United States.
The company considers itself a specialty company, which allows PhotoCure to operate with modest sales teams and stay targeted on its aims, Conrad says. “PDT is relatively new,” he says. “And specialty markets are much more manageable.” The PDT field is, for example, much more manageable than the hypertension field. Marketing hypertension treatments would require a huge sales force to reach the tens of thousands of doctors treating the condition, which is highly prevalent in the U.S.
In his almost 25 years in the pharmaceutical game, Conrad has noticed three major changes in how the industry operates. First is the regulatory environment. The steps toward getting approval from the FDA to market a drug, he says, have far more obstacles in the way than they used to.
Related to this is the way pharma companies get their money. Payments in the field of managed care have become a tangled morass, a result of the growth of the industry itself and of the technologies used to manage and track money.
The most exciting change, however, is in the science itself. “The science has grown exponentially,” Conrad says, “as has the ability to target diseases and and develop drugs to treat them.”
As for the future of PDT, Conrad says things look bright, “PDT is still relatively young in the marketplace. We’re just beginning to unlock the potential, particularly in terms of diagnostics.”
There are numerous indicators that PDT treatment can be used for various disease treatments, he says. “We’re focusing on treating diseased or damaged cells,” he says. “We certainly want to be on the lookout for other areas and applications — but I can’t really talk about them yet.”
Photocure, 202 Carnegie Center, Suite 204, Princeton 08540; 609-759-6500; fax, 609-799-0816. Terry Conrad, president. www.photocure.com.