PolarityTE is an innovative company that has developed a platform to regenerate a variety of functionally polarized tissue substrates, such as skin, bone, muscle, cartilage, blood vessels, peripheral nerves, and more. I had the honor of interviewing Dr. Denver Lough, Chairman, President, CEO, and CSO of PolarityTE. In this interview, we explore the origins of PolarityTE as a company. We also explore the company’s novel technology, 5-year vision, and future directions. Enjoy.
Insights from the CEO of PolarityTE, Dr. Denver Lough
Cade Hildreth: Why the name PolarityTE?
Dr. Denver Lough: Great question—it’s one we get often. Polarity in the biological sense describes the orientation and interface that cells and tissues have relative to each other which subsequently results in much of their intrinsic function. Essentially, all living cells and tissues must exhibit some form of polarity to proliferate, differentiate and develop hierarchical organized tissues.
Without polarity, a cell is basically lost and unable to remember how to function in a natural setting. If one takes a look across naturally occurring forms of healing and regeneration, it becomes apparent that it’s not a single cell that regenerates tissues—but rather polarized cells communicating with each other. AND the “TE” is simply my goal.
Cade Hildreth: Your goal? It doesn’t mean tissue engineering?
Dr. Denver Lough: No, it doesn’t mean tissue engineering. Yes, those two letters represent my ultimate goal for the company and the field of regenerative medicine.
Cade Hildreth: You were on track for a very prestigious career as a Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeon at Johns Hopkins—why did you leave to start this company?
Dr. Denver Lough: The Hopkins experience was great and I always look forward to working with everyone there again at some point. The reason I left was multi-factorial. One, and perhaps most importantly, was that as a surgeon I began to see how the structure of the current medical system was quickly going to put me, as well as other colleagues, at “terminal velocity” very quickly.
What I mean is that a physician can only see one patient in a given time period or a surgeon can only throw one stitch every “x” seconds; and at that point, you only have 2 options. Either incrementally see more patients or throw more stitches in a shorter time period, which often doesn’t result in improved patient care, or change the paradigm by actively helping a multitude of patients during that same time period.
Cade Hildreth: What makes your company different than the other regenerative medicine and wound care companies?
Dr. Denver Lough: Complex Simplicity.
Cade Hildreth: Complex Simplicity meaning?
Dr. Denver Lough: Meaning that if we go back and look at all of the greatest discoveries that really impacted humankind in science we see that the greatest discoveries were often the realization of reality. I believe that much of the regenerative medicine and tissue engineering field has pursued exceedingly complex mechanisms and stories to manipulate or make a cell, a growth factor or scaffold act like natural tissue(s)… My question to is: if we don’t really understand the exact interplay and mechanisms involved in natural regenerative wound healing, then how can we expect to have a single cell, single growth factor/drug or single matrix based scaffold truly regenerate anything?
Polarity’s approach is very different in that we approach regenerative medicine from the top down and using what we know works. This approach from “known” has allowed us to apply our technology across a variety of tissue substrates to regenerate full forms of skin, bone, muscle, cartilage, solid organ tissues and peripheral nerve elements. It would be naïve of us to honestly believe that the addition of singularity to a complex system would abruptly re-organize and re-direct complex wounds and tissue voids toward nascent functionally organized tissues…that frankly just doesn’t work.
In addition to challenging the paradigm of regenerative medicine, I believe that PolarityTE brings an entirely new type of team to the market and the field. How many regenerative medicine companies have such a tremendous all-star team of integrated clinical and scientific advisors? How many regenerative medicine companies really have a pragmatic platform technology that addresses all different tissue types? It is this clinical “in-the trenches” type of experience that Polarity prides itself on in developing truly revolutionary clinical constructs that actually work.
A biotech company can make an amazing “theoretical product” or one that looks great in the test tube, but the second it hits a bloody surgical field or is challenged by the immune system, its falls apart. We at Polarity have seen this over and over in medical practice and finally decided to do something about it.
We knew we had something special with Polarity after we kept meeting with a variety of different types of investors and kept getting offers. In the end, we decided to go with a route that allowed us to keep control of the company so that we could continue to pursue our vision, passion and pragmatic innovative platform.
Cade Hildreth: The company seems to be growing very quickly—what do you attribute that to?
Dr. Denver Lough: Well with all startups there are a variety of factors affecting the trajectory of a company. I honestly believe that across the spectrum of all the investors that we have spoken with, they have really been excited about this new technology platform we have developed. Once they see our actual technical capabilities they realize there is something entirely new and novel here with Polarity. However, after the tech gets their attention, they begin to see our complete vision, team and network for market penetration and growth.
Cade Hildreth: What keeps you up at night?
Honestly, the rapid growth of the company and the other entities becoming involved with us. It’s a good problem to have and we are always hungry for challenges.
Cade Hildreth: Do you consider yourself to be the next disruptive technology in regenerative medicine?
Dr. Denver Lough: The term “disruptive technology” seems to be an overly used buzz word describing technologies that people don’t understand, but think it appears different. To be honest, there hasn’t really been much disruptive technology seen in translational biotechnology. Companies keep producing derivatives of the same old clunky technologies and products with just different names on them. Go ahead and ask physicians and providers what cutting edge biotech materials they use day to day or really ever…not many, if any. If all of these disruptive technologies we keep hearing about don’t really amount to true clinical application, then are they really disruptive?
Saying that, I don’t want the Polarity technology platform to be defined as disruptive. I want it to be constructive—constructive at changing the paradigm of regenerative medicine. When patients/users/physicians/providers think of the Polarity technology and its regenerative constructs, I want them to reflect on how easy it was to work with our products and team, as well as how cost efficient Polarity has made regenerative medicine efforts. I want the experience for everyone to be able to participate in the beginning of a new form of pragmatic tissue regeneration.
Cade Hildreth: Being just a few months old you have managed to build quite an impressive team at PolarityTE—how did you do it?
Dr. Denver Lough: It is simple, I look for people who are over-qualified and underappreciated. These types of people are essentially the race horse you see kicking in the gates and once shown a goal will explode out of the gates and run full-speed.
Cade Hildreth: How did you come up with the technology?
Dr. Denver Lough: That’s a loaded question and being a public company with patented and proprietary materials, I can’t go into too much detail. But it basically came down to recognizing I couldn’t outsmart biology and that there are a ton of cues that regenerative wound healing will give you if you just look a little longer and a little deeper. There are many brilliant minds out there that are going down the wrong path because someone years ago said that regenerative medicine pivoted around cells, growth factors and scaffolds.
My questions are: does that really make sense fundamentally and isn’t it time we expanded on those three isolated pillars now that we know about micro-inhibitory RNA, epigenetics, metabolomics, exosomes etc. How do we account for all of these newly discovered cellular phenomena with such an out of date reductionist theory?
Cade Hildreth: PolarityTE offers a platform technology for regenerative medicine—what does that mean?
Dr. Denver Lough: Many regenerative medicine or biotech companies seem to hedge themselves on a single “disruptive” product in order to build a company. Initially, this doesn’t create a problem for the because they can focus their entire efforts on perfecting that product. However, eventually another group comes around and either builds a better product or creates an entirely new technology that circumvents the need for that product. This is a dangerous place to be because it is hard for a biotech company to reinvent itself from that now obsolete product.
We at Polarity have focused on truly developing a revolutionary new type of biotechnology and regenerative platform that is biologically sound and able to regenerate a variety of functionally polarized tissue substrates such as skin, bone, muscle, cartilage, blood vessels, peripheral nerves and solid organ parenchyma. This “platform” allows us to springboard off our fundamentally sound technology into a wide variety of customizable products that reach into a variety of fields.
Cade Hildreth: Where do you see the company being in the next few years?
Dr. Denver Lough: I believe that we have a superior technology, a superior team and a superior network to get our technology readily deployable and to market quickly. I also believe that the market is ready for a product and technology that works and is easy for medical providers and patients to choose. I also believe that the world has not actually seen the real biotech boom yet and hope that Polarity will be involved in it in some form.