Overlooked opportunities? Skin microbiome may play a more important role in personalisation than DNA
Dr Oliver Worsley told CosmeticsDesign-Asia that the skin microbiome is “more important than we give it credit for”.
In the early 2000s, Worsley was involved in research into the human genome, a project which highlighted the limitations of using DNA.
“We quite quickly realised after that it didn't bring as many breakthroughs in understanding medicine than we thought it would do. We thought understanding your genome would give all the answers we need in medicine, but actually that wasn't the case,” he said.
“Instead, new areas of medicine like epigenetics and the microbiome, which can be clearly be altered through the environment and play a significant, if not more influential role than your DNA itself.”
This means that even if you are born with a certain mutation, the microbiome can be manipulated to change the course of your skin health.
“We calculate something called the sequential skin age, which is your skin age based on genetics and microbiome. Understanding more about the skin microbiome can tell us how healthy that environment looks like and what we can do to increase the chances of having younger skin for longer,” said Worsley.
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Scientific and user-friendly
In 2018, Worsley and Dr Albert Dashi co-founded Sequential Skin, a start-up that helps consumers to identify the right products from them based on a simple analysis of their genetics and microbiome.
It is conducted with the help of a skin patch, which must be applied to the forehead for 10 secs before removing it and sending it back to the company for analysis – a scientific yet consumer-friendly approach to personalisation, said Worsley.
“We realised that the technology to understand the skin was limited in a way. You have questionnaires that consumers can fill out, but these have a user bias… Imaging is inaccurate and not reproducible. Then you’ve got the genetic companies which sequence your DNA using a swab or saliva sample. We know consumers find this process to be quite uncomfortable.”
The firm began commercial distribution of the kits in December 2019 and sold around 300 kits.
It hopes that its consumers that have tried the Sequential Skin kit and the products it has recommended will repeat the test.
“What we hope is that the consumers will go and try the products we recommend then take the test again to see how their skin has changed. Really understanding whether these products are working to improve the skin microbiome is a lot of value to us,” said Worsley
The firm is beginning to process the results of the repeated tests from the original 300 kits it sold last December.
“We’re starting to repeat them now because the labs have been suspended for the last two to three months. We’re hoping to process these samples soon to see how things are changing. So far, what we’ve seen is that there’s been an improvement on the vast majority of the samples we’ve looked at.”
More data from such tests will be extremely valuable for future product development for the company.
“If we make the product in house at Sequential it would be amazing to incorporate what we've found into the skin care products. This is something we're thinking about doing for the future,” said Worsley.
Sequential Skin initially planned to officially launch in Singapore this summer, but its plans were derailed due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
According to Worsley, the company is now planning to launch by the end of 2020, once the circumstances permit.
Meanwhile, the start-up is looking for seed funding to move plans ahead to expand globally.
“So far, we’ve relied on grants to get us where we are now. We received some amazing grants from the government of Singapore, from Enterprise SG and A* Star. Now we’re looking for more private funding so we can scale internationally.”
At the same time, Worsley reveals that it is speaking to several partners across the globe, including skin clinics and skin care companies.
“We are hoping to be an international company at some point next year,” he said.
Going international is a crucial move for the company as it hopes to get more datasets from different parts of the world.
“It turns out that a huge amount of data that genetic companies use is based on Caucasian datasets from America or Europe. We know that genetics are unique to certain populations and this is naturally how people have evolved. Having a relevant dataset is really important.”
This makes Singapore an ideal launchpad for the firm, said Worlsey.
“Singapore is a nice example of a collection of cultural and ethnic difference within South East Asia, as well as expats from East Asia or even Europe and America. Being able to capture that as well makes Singapore a great starting point.”
Moving forward, it hopes to expand into Japan and Korea.
“We are speaking to partners in both of these areas to get access to those markets. They have an inherent interest in skin care, and they are also interested in how tech works,” said Worsley.
“We're really keen on pushing this forward. My co-founder and I both invested in the company ourselves and we are 100% behind this. We think the skin microbiome is the future of skin care; it’s a really good time to be involved in it.”