‘Having proved the clinical efficacy of the red light treatment for non-melanoma skin cancer, we turned our attention to a larger addressable market – acne, using blue light.’
Acne is one of the most common dermatological problems around, affecting basically everyone at one point or another in their lives. Normally rearing its ugly head in adolescence, the condition often perseveres into one’s 20s and for many people, becomes a lifelong issue that can be both physically and emotionally scarring. No wonder the global acne treatments market was valued at just under $5bn in 2016, forecast to rise to over $7bn by the end of 2025.
Formed in 2004 as a spinout from the University of St Andrews and Tayside Health Board, Ambicare seeks to improve people’s lives by providing innovative, convenient, home-use treatments for a range of skin conditions and diseases with a focus on wearable tech. The company has developed two distinct product lines, both of which are clinically proven and convenient to use, for the treatment of non-melanoma skin cancer and acne.
Years of product development and some £6m of investment to date has brought Ambicare to its current position: commercially trading with four- and five-star-rated products, listed at Boots and cleared by the FDA to sell in the USA.
We spoke with Ambicare’s CEO Graeme Low to find out more about the company’s ethos and the new Lustre SOLO.
Before developing the Lustre acne treatment series, you worked on a red light treatment for skin cancer. Could you tell us a little about it?
Graeme: Yes, that product was the Ambulight PDT – a light-emitting sticking plaster for the treatment of non-melanoma skin cancer. PDT [Photodynamic therapy] is a multi-step process involving the application of a photosensitive drug followed by controlled exposure to a selective light source that activates the drug and destroys the diseased cells. PDT treatment is less invasive and avoids the scarring associated with surgical removal of the tumour and the need for an inpatient hospital stay. Ambulight allows the patient to be treated at home rather than wait as an outpatient at hospital.
Unlike Lustre [Ambicare’s acne device], which is sold over the counter, the Ambulight PDT process still requires a clinical professional – GP, consultant, practice nurse – to apply the pharmaceutical compound before activating the light. Once the drug is applied the patient goes home and Ambulight automatically switches on after three hours, delivering a measured dose of light over a further three hours before switching off automatically. Trials were carried out at the University Department of Dermatology in Dundee, accredited as the first UK Centre of Excellence by the European Society for Photodynamic Therapy in Dermatology.
Having proved the clinical efficacy of the red light treatment for non-melanoma skin cancer, we turned our attention to a larger addressable market – acne, using blue light.
Light-based anti-acne products already exist, with Neutrogena recently bringing out its Light Therapy Acne Mask, which uses red and blue light to treat acne. What sets apart the Lustre SOLO?
Rather than a mix of red and blue, Lustre is blue light only. Red light reduces the blemish/redness, but doesn’t kill the p.Acnes bacteria. A device using blue light only is more efficacious.
The treatment patch contains the light fully, with LEDs directly targeting the affected area – no light escapes due to its patented design, meaning users can get on with their life unrestricted. Some reviewers of the Neutrogena Light Mask write that some light escapes from the Mask eyelet, restricting what they can do while the treatment is taking place and causing the room they are in to appear ‘green’. With Lustre, you can continue to go about your day – read a book, do some gardening etc – with complete freedom.
Lustre is also easier to use away from home compared to the Mask due to its compact nature. Finally, while the Mask can only tackle spots on the face, Lustre can be attached anywhere on the body where spots appear, such as the chest or across the back and shoulders.
So the product patented?
Who are you trying to reach with Lustre?
The obvious answer is the ‘teen’ market, but the current product range is expensive to produce and therefore costs over £200 to purchase. We find that young professionals, or the parents of teenagers, are the groups who actually buy the product.
We now have pre-production prototypes of Lustre SOLO, a much cheaper version of the current Lustre range that delivers the same clinical efficacy, which we plan to launch in Q3 2018. We expect SOLO to retail for around £50, making it more directly attractive to the teen market.
Have you had any feedback from people using the Lustre range to treat their acne?
We have dozens of heartwarming testimonials from actual users saying how Lustre has transformed their lives after years of trying other (so called) acne remedies. You can find the full list of testimonials on Ambicare’s SyndicateRoom investment page, but here is one that captures the flavour (leaving in all original grammatical errors):
If you want to see an appearance in your acne buy this product! Well worth the money and actually works! Fantastic product! Really cleared up my skin and I see a huge difference after finishing the course of treatment! My skin is now softer and smoother and I feel great! So worth it for doing it every day for 20 mins and seeing a change to your appearance! 10/10 recommended. It will change your life!
5 out of 5
Amazon Customer, 13 July 2017
During your SR Live interview, you mentioned that Ambicare has already been approached by a US-based company that sells consumer skincare products. Are your products currently on sale anywhere?
The Lustre Pure Light range is available at Boots, Amazon, Current Body and directly from our own [website] (http://lustrepurelight.com). To date, we have sold around 4,000 units generating ~£400k in turnover.
What plans do you have of developing your product offering beyond the Lustre SOLO?
We plan on going on to target other skin treatment areas such as skin rejuvenation, wrinkle reduction, psoriasis and eczema.
That’s great. While we have you, could you tell us a little about your team – how many people are in it? What do you think is vital to company culture?
We have a small team – five people in the executive team, mostly part-time. At Board level, we are supported by very experienced professionals who have worked for many years in product development and business development with the likes of Procter & Gamble. Full profiles are available in the team bio section of our SR profile.
Our culture is more ‘small company’ – where everyone’s contribution is valued and respected – but underpinned by a strong directional focus, with everyone knowing what we are trying to achieve and working harmoniously to try to get there.
What do you see yourself doing after Ambicare?
Answers on a postcard… no, seriously, I would love to work in a mentoring capacity to support other business startups in achieving their goals.
Ambicare’s investment round is currently overfunding on SyndicateRoom.