RTP Startup BioAesthetics Exceeds $2.5M Series A Goal
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and a Research Triangle Park company developing a unique breast reconstruction option for mastectomy patients is raising awareness with its investment support.
The young regenerative medicine company, BioAesthetics, has built upon early funding support from the North Carolina Biotechnology Center and exceeded its $2.5 million Series A funding round goal.
Nick Pashos, Ph.D., founder and CEO of BioAesthetics, developed the company’s inaugural product, a nipple-areolar complex (NAC) graft, or NACgraft, during his doctoral studies at Tulane University in New Orleans.
“As we move into Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we are especially heartened by the substantial support we have received to help bring the NACgraft to market,” said Pashos.
“Previously, what we were trying to do was de-risk the science. That’s the biggest risk for any biotech company and that is what we really focused on in the past,” said Pashos. “Now, moving forward with this new round of funding, we’ll be focused on first-in-clinic and commercialization.”
NAC reconstruction choices limited
Creating the nipple-areolar complex is often a final step in a patient’s breast cancer journey. NAC reconstruction provides significant physical and psychological benefits for many patients. Women who have opted for nipple reconstruction report reduced feelings of distress and increased self-esteem.
Current NAC reconstruction options include prostheses, tattoos and surgical reconstructions with skin grafts. All of the current options are nonliving and/or nonpermanent.
With the tattoo solution, patients often find that they can fade up to 40% over a two-year period and require reapplication, said Pashos. With surgical reconstruction, Pashos said that about 70% of the reconstructed nipple volume can be lost within a year and almost all of the volume can be lost within five years.
BioAesthetics’ NACgraft is a biologically derived collagen scaffold in the shape of a NAC that would integrate with the patient’s body. The patient’s body would use the NACgraft as a building frame to regenerate her own nipple-areolar complex.
Late-night documentary leads to bold Ph.D. pivot
Pashos started his doctoral program with Bruce Bunnell, Ph.D., director of the Tulane Center for Stem Cell Research & Regenerative Medicine at the time. They were studying how tissue engineering could help patients in need of lung transplants. Pashos was working on a project to regrow lungs outside of the human body as an alternative to transplants.
Unable to sleep one night, he stumbled across a Netflix documentary discussing mastectomies that made him think. He wondered if the biotechnology that he had been studying to regrow lungs could be used to regrow the nipple-areolar complex.
The next morning, Pashos walked into Bunnell’s office and announced that he would like to shift the focus of his research from lungs to NACs. After Bunnell overcame his initial surprise that a student would want to change the focus of his research after a year and a half of work, the two had a good discussion. Later, they consulted a plastic surgeon and she agreed that there was indeed a need for NAC reconstruction alternatives.
Drawn to North Carolina, NCBiotech support
After Pashos completed his Ph.D. program at Tulane in 2017, he and his business partner, Billy Heim, decided it was time to find a new home for BioAesthetics.
Heim, who now serves as BioAesthetics’ chief operating officer, had previously done some consulting work with a few other North Carolina-based startups. Heim and Pashos liked that North Carolina’s Triangle region had one of the highest Ph.D. concentrations in the country yet it was not nearly as expensive as the West Coast or Boston.
“RTP seemed like a great fit,” said Pashos. “And we relocated at the beginning of 2018.”
In 2019, NCBiotech granted BioAesthetics a Small Business Research Loan to establish quality systems and a manufacturing process for its NACgraft.
“The Biotech Center has helped us out pretty tremendously,” said Pashos. “The Center has different programs that you can lean on being a newer CEO and startup. The feedback sessions have been really great.”
Through the Center’s Industrial Internship Program, a biomedical engineering student from North Carolina State University worked with the company this past summer.
“The Biotech Center congratulates BioAesthetics on its exceedingly successful Series A funding,” said Kathy Meserve, senior director of investments with the North Carolina Biotech Center. “It is exciting to watch the young company move forward so quickly and to have it do so with the financial support of the many investors who believe in the company’s science and mission.”
According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in their lifetime. Each year, more than 230,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with breast cancer and approximately 180,000 undergo mastectomies.