One of Bogotá’s most innovative inventions emerged just nine years ago. It is a product that would astonish many, because in these geographic areas, people showed little or no interest in science. But, the new century brought changes and with them, came the new mentality of three young doctors from the Javeriana University: Juan Carlos Zambra, Jennifer Gaona and Rodrigo Soto, who dreamed of specializing in plastic surgery, but not just for vanity but, to help those who really need it. Se trata de un producto del que muchos se asombrarían, pues en estas tierras poco o nada la gente se interesa por la ciencia. Their desires came together and took shape after one of those doctors, Juan Carlos Zambra, traveled to Vienna (Austria). On this trip he saw how cell cultures are made from donor patients to cover skin burns from chronic ulcers. “We thought we could offer a better treatment than surgery. We were unhappy with the easy way of surgeries. It occurred to Juan to tell us that we should bring that to Colombia and that’s how it all
began,” says Dr. Soto.
But these restless professionals did not leave the treatment as the Europeans created it. Jennifer Gaona, one of the key elements on this project, was working on her thesis at that time and decided to try different ways to improve the procedure and to reduce costs, since there was a small budget. In the end she achieves the improbable: without the need for donors, she removes a skin graft from the same patient, to make the collagen sheets, which will later be used on those who need the treatment.
But, how does Keraderm work? Jennifer Gaona explains that a skin graft is removed from behind the patient’s ear and a blood sample is taken. Both the blood sample and the graft go to the lab where a culture of keratinocytes (which make up the most superficial part of the skin) and fibroblasts (essential in the healing of wounds) is created.
This remains in the lab for only five days, when the cells reproduce and grow to a sufficient amount needed to plant them in a collagen sheet, which reaches about 90,000 cells per square centimeter. These sheets are used to cover the patient’s wound and then they are bandaged. The person has to go to medical checkups and for bandage replacements, as prescribed. In just 45 to 60 days the skin regenerates incredibly. “It is a quicker, cheaper and non-surgical procedure than that of a normal skin graft, which involves a painful removal of a piece of skin from another part of the body,” says Gaona, now Scientific Director of Keraderm. Since they were successful with this product, they have not been still for a single second. They already had the medical part covered but, needed assistance with the economic part to be able to start an entrepreneurship project. This is how Invercor, an investment bank joins them. This I show this idea becomes a reality and together they set up their lab.
In Colombia, 200 patients have already been successfully treated with Keraderm: women burned with acid or with breast cancer wounds, children who suffered accidents in their homes, men with huge ulcers and people who suffered from skin cancer, are part of the satisfactions of this group of doctors, who now bet on showing their product and on making it accessible to citizens. Each sheet of 10 centimeters by 10 centimeters is sold for $1,400,000 Colombian pesos. So far, they have been implemented at 11 hospitals in the city.
This company has established itself as one of the most innovative in Colombia. They already won a prize of $50,000 USD at the “MassChallenge” finals; the most important entrepreneur competition in the world, which takes place every year in Boston, USA. “companies were selected to participate on this challenge. They gave us a job for four months and gave us access to mentors for the issues that concern us. We were in competition all the time. We were among 15 winners and we were the only Latin American company that won that year” says Jorge Soto, Keraderm’s financial manager.
For five years, they have been advancing the process to patent their product in Colombia, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, the United States, the European Union, China and India. In all these places, the product is under deep revision, that is, they are verifying that a similar product doesn’t already exist. So far, it has had good reception in most places and they’re now waiting for the patent to be granted, which would give them protection for 20 years.
Dr. Rodrigo Soto explains that the future for Keraderm is growth. Although they are only seven employees, with above all, an immense desire to contribute & be part of the change, they will continue to create more innovative products that will improve the quality of anyone suffering from injuries and skin burns. These products will also show the world how much talent exists in Colombia.