After getting laid off from Alcon in early 2015, Elyse Dickerson and Joe Griffin knew they wanted to start their own business. All they needed was a product.
In just a little more than two years, they developed a drop to dissolve earwax and had it for sale on Amazon. Then this month, EarwaxMD — an over-the-counter treatment for compacted earwax — went on sale at CVS drugstores across the country.
“This is so much faster than I ever imagined,” said Dickerson, 42, a Fort Worth native who is CEO at Eosera. “When I presented to investors, we did not promise them this kind of speed to market. We’re probably a year ahead of where I thought we would be.”
Eosera is another graduate for TECH Fort Worth, the business incubator run out of the former James E. Guinn school south of downtown. In recent years, the incubator has spawned two big biotech winners: ZS Pharma, maker of a drug to treat hyperkalemia (excess potassium in the blood), bought by AstraZeneca in 2015 for $2.7 billion; and Encore Vision, which developed a drug for presbyopia, or hardening of the eye lens, sold last year to Novartis for an estimated $465 million.
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Over the years at Alcon, Dickerson, a marketing and brand manager, and Griffin, who handled clinical trials of eye-care products, worked on projects together. After they left Alcon, they met with doctors to come up a new product idea — and learned that a solution was needed for earwax, which can clog the ear passage and afflicts many people with hearing aids.
They joined TECH Fort Worth, which gave them access to lab space at the University of North Texas Health Science Center. There they tried as many as 200 formulations before finding the right mix.
“We had some good collaboration from a lot of people who were willing to offer intellectual support,” said Griffin, 50, the company’s chief scientific officer. “We’d ask for support from colleagues or from academics and other doctors. We were blessed to have a lot of good help.”
At first, they self-funded the business. Then in late 2015, Eosera won a business pitch competition at the Dallas Entrepreneur Center, which brought a $50,000 award and investment leads. The company would eventually raise $1.2 million to fund clinical trials, mostly from area individuals.
After sales started growing on Amazon, they worked through a broker to arrange a meeting with CVS, which agreed to take the product. “It’s a sleepy category, with little competition,” Dickerson said. “The retailer was ecstatic.”
Earwax MD is priced at the high end of the market. At the CVS on Camp Bowie Boulevard, the drops were selling for $19.29, compared to other earwax removal products ranging from $8.29 to $11.29. But Dickerson said their clinical data shows EarwaxMD is more effective and can typically resolve problems with fewer doses.
Next for Eosera is moving from TECH Fort Worth and setting up manufacturing in Fort Worth at a 5,000-square-foot building on 6th Street near University Drive. By the end of October, the company plans to begin shifting production of eardrops from a contract manufacturer near Orlando, Florida, to Fort Worth and add 10-15 employees.