Meet The Entrepreneur Helping Women In Chemo Keep Their Hair

Kate Dilligan spent $8,000 to save lots of her hair throughout most cancers therapies, then spent one other $40,000 to see if there was a greater approach. There was.

When 45-year-old Jennifer Graff was recognized with breast most cancers in August, certainly one of her first ideas was for the ladies she sees as an obstetrician-gynecologist. Graff knew she’d be able to working via the prescribed 12 rounds of chemotherapy. She fearful, nonetheless, about how sufferers would react after they noticed certainly one of chemo’s extra insidious side-effects — hair loss.

“I used to be involved that they’d see me with no hair and suppose I look sick,” Graff says, “and surprise, ‘How can she deal with my child?’”

At this time, Graff is eight rounds in and nonetheless has 90% of her hair. It’s what occurs when science meets entrepreneurial chutzpah: Graff is utilizing the Amma cap, a conveyable scalp-cooling system that’s the brainchild of entrepreneur Kate Dilligan and her startup, Cooler Heads.

Dilligan based Cooler Heads in 2018 after spending $8,000 to save lots of her personal hair throughout breast most cancers remedy the 12 months earlier than. Scalp-cooling, which some sufferers say seems like having an ice pack in your head, may also help many sufferers save all or most of their hair from falling out, a typical side-effect of chemo, as a result of the chilly constricts blood vessels and prevents the cancer-fighting chemical substances from reaching hair follicles. However Dilligan’s expertise was unwieldy and costly, necessitating the assistance of a white-glove service to place dry ice packs on her head each 20 to half-hour whereas chemical substances have been pumped into her physique. The method labored, however left Dilligan satisfied there was a greater approach.

“How do you create one thing that’s moveable, reasonably priced and absolutely patient-administered, so that you’re not counting on different folks?” Dilligan says.

She spent $40,000 of her personal financial savings to reply the query. A Stanford enterprise faculty graduate and longtime expertise government, Dilligan tapped into her community to search out design engineers to research the physics round a conveyable capping system after which construct and check a prototype. She wished a headpiece that was versatile and safe sufficient to remain on any individual’s head and a cooling unit that will keep linked to the cap and stay near-freezing even after it unplugged from an influence supply and traveled with a affected person.

Dilligan joined a tech accelerator in San Diego, the place she lives, and raised $1.4 million in a seed spherical in 2019, which helped her full the prototype. By December 2021, the Cooler Heads Amma cap had been cleared for commercialization by the Meals and Drug Administration, permitting Dilligan to lift one other $2.4 million in enterprise funding. She launched to the general public in July with the intent of renting caps on to customers or promoting them to chemo infusion facilities, so they may lease them to sufferers. Nevertheless, as a result of a mixture of demand and up to date modifications in Medicare billing procedures, Dilligan is at present focusing solely on promoting to infusion facilities.

Cooler Heads did over a quarter-million {dollars} in gross sales in its first two months in the marketplace, Dilligan says. “Demand is absolutely, actually sturdy.”

Julie Gralow, the chief medical officer and government vice chairman of the American Society of Scientific Oncology, says that Cooler Heads is a great product hitting the market on the proper time. Two of the corporate’s non-portable opponents, the Paxman and Dignicap, obtained FDA clearance in 2017, and Medicare’s 2021 enchancment in the best way hospitals and clinics may invoice for scalp cooling helped broaden entry. Gralow was a practising oncologist for 3 many years and says that it was solely “throughout perhaps the final 5 years of my follow that [cold capping] began changing into sensible.”

Having been a affected person herself, Kate understands how a lot hope is packaged in that little system and he or she doesn’t take it flippantly.

Jennifer Graff, M.D.

Gralow says one drawback with the present methods is that they take up beneficial actual property in chemo infusion facilities. “It’s important to plug them in to have the coolant circulating, [and] it’s a must to put the cap on anyplace from half-hour to a few hours upfront of the remedy after which maintain it on after,” she says. With a restricted variety of chairs and different most cancers sufferers needing their very own chemo, there are few enterprise incentives for infusion facilities to let cold-capping sufferers keep after their infusion ends. Cooler Heads’ cellular system solves that drawback.

“I feel it’s an essential advance,” Nancy Marshall, the cofounder of nonprofit The Rapunzel Undertaking. In 2010, Marshall and her pal Shirley Billigmeier based the Rapunzel Undertaking as a approach to educate sufferers on entry and pay for scalp cooling after Billigmeier efficiently used the remedy to maintain her hair throughout breast most cancers remedy in 2009. Marshall has seen different entrepreneurs attempt to sort out the portability and value points, however says, “Kate is the primary one who was in a position to develop an precise viable product and produce it to market.”

Dilligan sells the Cooler Heads Amma cap to infusion facilities for $1,250, however the fee to customers relies on insurance coverage protection. As Marshall places it, insurance coverage on scalp-cooling is “all over. We inform all people to use for protection and enchantment a denial, however to not assume that it’s ever going to get permitted.”

Dilligan argues that scalp-cooling is a medical necessity, pointing to research that point out a plurality of ladies contemplate chemo-induced hair loss to be probably the most “traumatic” side of chemotherapy and almost 10% say they’d decline remedy simply to keep away from it.

So it isn’t about vainness. Many ladies say it’s about their id. Dilligan “is giving dignity and confidence to anyone who’s going via chemo and most cancers,” says Siliva Mah, a Normal Associate at Stella Influence Capital and certainly one of Cooler Heads’ buyers. And he or she’s doing it in a approach, Mah says, that “incentivizes the infusion facilities to serve extra sufferers at the next customary of care.”

Dilligan says she was sitting just lately with a affected person who was utilizing the Amma cap who’d had a mastectomy. “She mentioned the considered dropping her hair was extra upsetting than dropping a breast,” Dilligan says.

Obstetrician-gynecologist Graff and different cold-cap sufferers say that scalp-cooling offers sufferers the flexibility to reclaim a little bit of management throughout a time when a lot else is uncontrollable.

“We lose a lot, particularly for these of us who find yourself having a mastectomy, and it’s only a lot that occurs actually quick,” Graff says. “Having been a affected person herself, Kate understands how a lot hope is packaged in that little system and he or she doesn’t take it flippantly.”


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