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An `Ooh-la-la’ Drug for Acne
This article by Barbara Figge Fox was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on
February 24, 1999. All rights reserved.
In France, perhaps more than in any other country,
merchandise that enhances a woman’s beauty is a highly valued commodity
as well as a major contribution to the gross national product. One
thinks of Paris as the inspired origin of such glamour luxuries as
perfume and face cream. A French label has the eclat, the veritable
"ooh-la-la" that makes women the world over reach for their
So it should not be surprising that a French cosmetic firm was the
first to set up a center exclusively for research on skin diseases.
Twenty years ago, at a time when big pharmaceutical firms were devoting
only a small portion of their resources to dermatology, L’Oreal set
up a laboratory for serious dermatologic research and partnered with
Nestle to found Galderma, a pharmaceutical company located on the
Riviera near Nice.
"There was very little chemistry associated with dermatology 25
years ago," says Braham Shroot, head of the North American laboratory
known as Galderma Research and Development Inc. "Many of the drugs
available were very old-fashioned, partly because dermatology was
a poor man’s area in terms of research and development. Companies
didn’t feel that they wanted to invest precious research in this direction.
But that was the vision of the people that founded our company."
Shroot is the first named inventor on the patent for Differin, Galderma’s
signature drug for treating acne. Galderma also has products for rosacea
and eczema and is developing treatments for psoriasis. If Neostrata
went from treating a severe skin affliction (icthyosis) to helping
women look beautiful, Galderma is the result of beauty merchandisers
investing in drugs to cure dermatological disorders — heartbreak
diseases of the skin.
Shroot, a Scotsman, has just brought Galderma’s American laboratory
from San Diego to Princeton. In temporary quarters now, it will move
this summer into 30,000 square feet at 5 Cedar Brook drive at Exit
8A and has an option on 60,000 feet. Shroot has 20 employees and is
hiring. Worldwide, the firm has a headquarters and production facilities
in France, laboratories in France and Japan, a marketing office in
Fort Worth, Texas, and a production facility near Montreal. It has
1,110 employees including 210 researchers, 70 inventions, and more
than 500 patents.
In February, 1998, Shroot had looked at locations in Pennsylvania,
Boston, Fort Worth, and even the rest of New Jersey. "We are full
of optimism about setting up our operation here. We had tremendous
cooperation from the local people," says Shroot, citing Henry
Cruz, of the state commerce department.
Shroot also liked Princeton’s proximity to Europe and its talent pool
that can be tapped by attending meetings and making contact "not
only with industry talent, but also local clinical talent in universities
and other centers."
Another factor: A business incentive grant from the NJ Economic Development
Authority to help pay for $8 million fit-out costs. The amount depends
on how many jobs are created, says Shroot. "Our plan is to have
80 or 90 people by 2000."
"We are looking now for experts in analytics and pharmaceutics,
clinical research, and regulatory affairs," says Shroot. Already
on board are his director of development who came from France: Jean
Combalbert. Xian-Ping Lu has come from the San Diego lab to continue
as director of research. Aaron Tenenbaum is in charge of information
technology and Nicole Morel is associate director of operations. Susan Tomasko,
the financial controller, came from Ingersoll-Rand and Mark Hecklinger,
director of human resources, had most recently worked for Bristol-Myers Squibb.
All have been in place since early fall and are eagerly awaiting their
move-in to their permanent quarters.
Architecture Plus of Raritan is doing the fit out for Cedar Brook
Corporate Center, which turns out to be a real biotech neighborhood,
with a polymer firm, HydroMed Sciences; a toothpaste firm, Enamelon;
a test lab, Vector Corporation; and another new biotech, Allelix Neuroscience.
In the early stages of move-in, says Shroot, the other firms were
helpful lending such equipment as projectors. "It’s like borrowing
sugar," he says.
Shroot chose dermatology not entirely by chance. His wife had worked
as a nurse in a day care center for treatment of psoriasis, and he
himself had suffered from skin disease. "I know the heartache
of it," says Shroot, "and the drugs were far from adequate."
Dermatology is also an intriguing area because it encompasses so much
in so small a space. "The skin is a wonderful setting to do basic
research: It contains the blood system, nervous system, and cells
at different levels of maturation," says Shroot.
Braham Shroot grew up in Glasgow, where his parents owned a leather
furniture manufacturing business. Though he was an only child, he
chose to cede his rights and, instead, pursued chemistry studies at
the University of Glasgow, Class of 1964. He stayed in Glasgow for
his PhD and married a nurse in that city. (His wife, Sandy Shroot,
is now a professional world-class downhill mountain bike racer who
has a bicycle business, Top Cycle, in Antibes, near Galderma’s French
Just after he went to do his post doctoral studies at
Harvard with Robert Burns Woodward, Woodward won a Nobel Prize. Shroot
worked on discovery of anti-fungal drugs at Pfizer for five years
and joined the L’Oreal Group — one of the parent companies of
Galderma — in 1976.
"I was one of the instigators of the research center in Nice,"
says Shroot. "Then it was a private institute, called the Center
for International Skin Research, set up to do basic research and understand
the mechanism of disease. It prepared us for where we are today."
Shroot followed Galderma’s signature product Differin for acne from
concept to launch. Differin has as its key ingredient a new Vitamin
A molecule named Adapelene. Johnson & Johnson discovered the original
metabolite of vitamin A, Retin-A. But Adapelene, says Shroot, was
the first fully synthetic "retinoid." "One advantage of
the synthetic retinoid is that it is much better tolerated. Exactly
what mechanism it uses we have not yet discovered, but is less irritating."
"For new entities, there are no shortcuts," says Shroot. It
took six years to discover Adapelene, and 10 years later Differin
came on the market. Now Differin is a proven prescription therapy
that earns nearly $100 million worldwide. Its slogan: "Tough on
acne, gentle on you."
"Differin is less irritating than most of the retin-A products.
I love Differin and I use a lot of it," confirms Albert Rosenthal,
a dermatologist on Franklin Corner Road. "If you want something
that is a very nice treatment for acne that takes the blackheads to
the surface, Differin is perfect. Patients use it at nighttime, and
unlike most of the other retinol products you don’t have to wait for
your face to dry before you put it on. That is a big extra."
Galderma uses such techniques as combinatorial chemistry, high throughput
assays, and state-of-the-art formulation materials, and it markets
both prescription and consumer products, specifically Cetaphil-brand
lotions, bars, and creams. "We have a very rich pipeline that
includes products for psoriasis."
Shroot made the transition from bench to management, he says, "by
asking really experienced people who I admired in the company what
one does in a certain situation. The hardest parts are negotiations
"It is quite a mindset change to general management. My brief
is to keep very close touch with our business of research. I try to
get people to do what makes them happy in their work. I try to take
as much stress out of their job by shielding them from administrative
tasks that dilute their work. It is what researchers and developers
are meant to do."
Working in the United States prevents him from spending much time
with his wife; they see each other every four or five weeks. But,
says Shroot, "The job here is so exciting, and engineering and
building something new is worth this investment."
Unlike the CEO of an entrepreneurial start-up R&D, Shroot need not
concern himself with how he is going to meet payroll. He doesn’t have
to go after venture capital or decide whether to go public: Galderma
is owned by deep-pocketed companies.
"Pharmaceutical companies weren’t prepared to spend that proportion
of their budget on dermatological research until quite recently,"
says Shroot. "Whether because they were French or because they
were involved in the skin area, the people at L’Oreal and Nestle had
the vision — over 20 years ago — that it would be a tremendous
— Barbara Figge Fox
Brook Drive, T-1A Cedar Brook Corporate Center, Cranbury 08512. Braham
Shroot, president. 609-409-7701; fax, 609-409-7705. Home page:
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