Imagine: a game-changing next-generation version of drug delivery.
A Greenville-headquartered life sciences company with technology licensed from Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Zylö is on a mission to create the next generation of topical drug delivery through their Z-pod technology, which provides sustained release of topicals.
At the core of the technology are Z-pods, which are amorphous silica particles engineered to “encapsulate” active ingredients. The loaded Z-pods can be incorporated into a cream, gel, balm or ointment; after rubbing the cream into your skin, the Z-pods embed into the top layers of your dead skin cells and slowly release the active ingredient. Eventually the Z-pods slough off along with your dead skin cells.
With many actives, this delivery system will increase the bioavailability of the active agent, which means getting more of the active to the right location. Increased bioavailability is generally a primary objective of pharma companies and cosmetic houses alike. With some actives, it is the “holy grail.”
Given this, Zylö hopes their Z-pod technology can turn ordinary topical products into “game-changers.”
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Zylö Therapeutics CEO and founder Scott Pancoast describes the company’s delivery system as a “patchless patch.” A regular patch acts as a reservoir of an active ingredient and slowly releases the ingredient into your skin. Z-pods serve the same purpose, except you don’t have to wear a patch, remove a patch, or dispose of a patch.
Zylö’s technology has overcome the bioavailability limitations of AEA, an endocannabinoid that the human body produces: AEA-loaded Z-pods demonstrated significant reductions in lesion count and lesion severity in a lupus model as compared with AEA without Z-pods.
“Cutaneous lupus affects mostly women, mostly women of color, and mostly women of color in their childbearing years,” said Pancoast.
Lupus usually creates lesions on the neck, face and scalp and greatly affects quality of life. “There are few treatment options, and it’s devastating,” he said.
Pancoast said Zylö’s AEA-loaded Z-pods were put to the test in an animal model of lupus where mice get the lesions on their neck, head and face — just like humans — and tested them against a no-treatment group and a group that was treated with AEA without the pods. In both the no-treatment group and the AEA-only group, the lesions continued to get worse. But in the AEA-loaded-Z-pod-treated animals, the lesions got smaller, and most of them were unnoticeable after 10 weeks of treatment.
“The results were significant and robust,” he said.
Zylö is anticipating, by the end of May, to receive a grant award from the National Institutes of Health to advance this lupus program.
That award would be in addition to the five other grant awards they have received from the NIH and the Department of Defense. Most of these awards involve the company’s sister technology whereby the Z-pods are specially engineered to provide sustained release — and increased bioavailability — of nitric oxide, a gas that is often referred to as the “Miracle Molecule.” This nitric oxide-based product has many possible applications, including for the treatment of erectile dysfunction, wound-healing and nail fungus, among others.
The company is currently in discussions with cosmetic and over-the-counter and prescription drug companies that seek to improve product performance.
Besides the grant-related programs, Zylö and one of its partners have a hair-growth program that is attracting considerable attention. In a study sponsored by the partner, more than 80% of the study subjects that had androgenetic alopecia, or male-pattern baldness, had new hair growth after 90 days of treatment with a Z-pod-based product prototype. Negotiations are ongoing with several companies, and one or more product launches are anticipated later this year.
Additional products in the works for Zylö include herbicide-loaded Z-pods for farmers that produce less runoff and are thereby environmentally friendly; CBD-loaded Z-pods for sports recovery/performance and for anti-aging; and lemongrass-oil-loaded Z-pods that would be an environmentally safe and longer-lasting mosquito repellent.
In 2022, Zylö was valued at approximately $23 million, compared to its valuation of $10 million in 2019, and their hope is that they can continue to advance these programs and increase the valuation 10-fold or more.
“As the business founder of the company, this is my baby,” said Pancoast. “The prospects of becoming the next gen of topical drug delivery are high.”
But there is a human side to this that is fulfilling for Pancoast.
“Our technology can do a lot of good for the world, especially when it comes to lupus, which has such a profound effect on those who have it,” he said.