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Read more about Aclaris and our vision for tackling “white spaces” in dermatology,
and beyond in our company blog.

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Jan 16, 2019 | People and Culture

I have had a very fulfilling career. I also had four children during my career, so I know how hard it can be to be a mother in the workplace. That’s why from the very beginning, in 2012, when we established Aclaris, I made it my personal mission to help create what I call a “life-friendly” workplace here at Aclaris—one that embraces and supports a diverse workplace, full of people who value their personal lives as much as their professional success. I want Aclaris to be a company where you can have both.

The way it was

During the early years of my working career in the 1980s, companies were just starting to recognize the importance of a family-friendly environment. Initiatives such as job share programs were in place but were rarely utilized because women realized that if they took advantage of these programs, it could be the death knell for their careers. Back then, the mindset regarding work-life balance issues had yet to evolve. We were still in the Stone Age regarding the importance of balancing work and life.

As a young professional and a working mother, I went along with this mindset, until the unthinkable happened. I was in a terrible car accident in which I was seriously injured, and my toddler son died. As a result of this life-altering event, I sought and received support-- not only from my family and friends-- but from my workplace supervisors and mentors. Fortunately, I worked with individuals who recognized my contributions, and as a result, I was able to continue to contribute to the team utilizing a flexible workplace and schedule.

Workplace flexibility should be available to all employees, not just those who experience a tragedy. If you hire the right people with the right work ethic, flexible work arrangements will only enhance the productivity of employees and contribute to the success of the employee and the company. As my career advanced, and I assumed leadership roles, I have tried to ensure that employees are able to take advantage of workplace flexibility.

Pushing for progress

The challenges involved in raising children while working full-time motivated me to become part of the solution—to work to change the mindset of colleagues regarding work-life choices for everyone. I believe a personally-fulfilled employee is a highly productive employee.

I believe a “life-friendly” work environment serves the best interests of both employees and the companies they work for. For example, parenthood is an excellent training ground for the development of various skills such as time management, project management, advocacy, organizational, financial, negotiating, and multi-tasking skills which are transferable to the workplace. In my view, you are the CEO of a small business when you are managing a family, your personal life, and your career.

How to build a better workplace.

In my position at Aclaris, I am a strong advocate for creating a life-friendly environment for all employees. As a manager, I try to be flexible and show that I respect the fact that people have personal lives which need to be nurtured and supported. At Aclaris, this translates into:

- Working from home. With today’s technology, many employees can be productive working from home. As a manager, I have seen employees committed to getting their work done - no matter what it takes.

- Core and summer work hours. Aclaris has implemented a policy regarding core and summer work hours to allow employees to meet the needs of their families as well as the business needs of Aclaris.

- Hiring well. We employ the right people, so we feel confident that providing them with options for work-life choices will only result in more productive and better-performing employees.

I believe fostering a life-friendly environment is key to corporate success. I have found that it helps attract and retain great employees and facilitates engagement at work. Employees who feel like their job fits their life are often willing to go the extra mile to achieve business objectives. That’s why I will continue to be an advocate for a diverse, life-friendly workplace.

© 2019 Aclaris Therapeutics, Inc. All rights reserved. Unless otherwise noted, all trademarks referenced on this page are owned by Aclaris Therapeutics.

When we founded Aclaris Therapeutics seven years ago, our idea of taking medicines from the laboratory bench into patient care was driven by the first-hand experiences of Dr. Stu Shanler and myself in our clinical practices. As physicians treating patients, sometimes we had no choice but to use sub-optimal treatments for dermatological and immunological conditions. Since then, our team has advanced Aclaris into a fully-integrated biopharmaceutical company with two FDA-approved medicines and one of the sector’s most promising pipelines.

2018 has been a particularly productive year for Aclaris Therapeutics. We launched a topical medicine to address a condition which can be a cosmetic concern for patients; received a U.S. patent related to the use and administration of certain Janus Kinase (JAK) inhibitors for treating hair loss disorders; further bolstered our intellectual portfolio and clinical pipeline programs; entered into a partnership with Harris-Stowe State University to support the development and education of scientists from underrepresented minority groups; and licensed and re-launched a topical medication to treat a characteristic sign of a dermatological disease affecting the face.

As we look to 2019, potentially the most event and data-rich year in our company’s history, we expect multiple mid and late-stage clinical data readouts, including data for experimental treatments for alopecia areata and common warts, two diseases where we know first-hand that there is an immense need for better treatments. We also expect to file an investigational new drug application to address a progressive immunological disorder which causes sufferers to have difficulty completing everyday activities.

Our approach at Aclaris Therapeutics to discovering and developing new treatments is not conventional by pharmaceutical company standards. We start by understanding the mechanism of a molecule in the body, such as one of the protein kinases from our KINect platform or a therapeutic remedy used for another disease in a different dose or form. Then we conduct experiments to apply the mechanism to a disease or condition with great need, potentially one that others have abandoned or overlooked. We formulate these potential treatments with the patients in mind, taking into consideration the opportunity for both topical and oral medications to address the full spectrum of disease severity. We use the term “revelationary science” to describe our approach: making connections and turning surprising insights into practical applications for the benefit of patients. Sometimes, this means understanding when it’s time to change course or enter into a strategic partnership when we know this will lead to a medicine getting into the hands of patients faster.

We are entering a new, exciting era of growth and innovation at Aclaris Therapeutics, and I look forward to the progress that the new year will bring for our company and the patients we serve.

© 2018 Aclaris Therapeutics, Inc. All rights reserved. Unless otherwise noted, all trademarks referenced on this page are owned by Aclaris Therapeutics.

At Aclaris, we have built a sharp, experienced research and development team and have resources to tackle some of the “white spaces” in dermatology – conditions that lack approved medications or where significant treatment gaps exist. In our discovery laboratories in St. Louis and our clinical research unit in Wayne, PA, we are mining new insights into biologic pathways to develop innovative medicines that could potentially treat intractable conditions in dermatology and immunology.

But one company alone cannot ensure a vibrant ecosystem for innovation in dermatology. The future of dermatology depends on many physicians, researchers, business leaders and companies attacking disease targets from multiple angles.

That is why I joined a group of about a dozen other dermatologists, researchers, and business leaders seven years ago to form a novel non-profit organization committed to fostering and driving innovation in dermatology. At the time, each of us had individually concluded that there remained a significant need for scientifically-driven innovation to address the many dermatologic conditions that continued to vex researchers, frustrate physicians, and cause patients both physical and emotional discomfort.

To be sure, the number of new dermatology medicines submitted to the FDA for approval has fallen steadily over the past few decades. New medicines have been introduced for conditions like melanoma and plaque psoriasis, but dermatology is a field characterized by many common skin conditions as well as rare genetic disorders where significant unmet needs remain.

With the leadership of William Ju, M.D. as president, these colleagues and I founded Advancing Innovation in Dermatology (AID). We were hoping to create a resource and serve as a connection for scientists, clinicians, and entrepreneurs dedicated to expanding treatment options in the field. Now, AID has become the community of innovators that we envisioned, and that was so needed in our field.

Earlier this year, we held our fifth annual “Dermatology Summit,” and our fourth annual “Dermatology Entrepreneurship Conference”. We were heartened by the growing numbers of attendees each meeting attracted. Hundreds of people enthusiastic about innovation gathered to network and learned from experts in the field. The program covered everything from the latest advances in aesthetic dermatology to clinical trial management to outcomes measurement.

Just as we want to drive and support entrepreneurship, we also understand that we need to nurture the next generation of innovators committed to dermatology. Investing in future breakthroughs has to begin now, by training and inspiring new leaders to develop products and ultimately commercialize them. Right now, AID is in the process of reviewing applications from dermatology residents and fellows as well as early-career researchers and clinicians for a 10-month AID-sponsored program. The half dozen scholars selected for the program will connect with innovators from AID-member companies who can provide real-world guidance on how to advance new dermatologic treatment options, such as defining an opportunity, creating a drug development plan, and accessing expertise to navigate the regulatory approval process.

AID recognizes that insufficient financial resources can be a significant roadblock to innovation, especially in the high-risk early stages of proof-of-concept development. We have created the AID Accelerator Fund which is directed to bridge the gap between academic institutional funding and traditional venture capital. The fund provides seed funding and in-kind business support, such as guidance on establishing and protecting intellectual property. The fund is described in an article titled “Catalyzing Future Drug, Device, and Information Technology Breakthroughs in Dermatology” which appears online in the April 11 issue of JAMA Dermatology.

Beyond our work at Aclaris to drive dermatologic innovation, I am proud to have played a role in AID. If you are interested in learning more about it, visit www.advancing-derm.com.

When I treated patients in my dermatology practice, I saw people struggle with skin conditions that were not life-threatening, yet took an emotional toll. These people included patients with psoriasis who refrained from intimate relationships because of their skin plaques; patients with rosacea who worried that their colleagues would think they had been drinking; patients with alopecia areata who felt compelled to wear hats or wigs; and patients with vitiligo who minimized their time in public places to avoid strangers’ questions and stares.

Dermatologists know these stories are common. Take alopecia areata and vitiligo, for instance. Alopecia areata is an autoimmune skin disease that results in partial or complete loss of hair on the scalp and body, and about 6.8 million Americans have or will develop alopecia areata during their lifetimes.[i] Vitiligo is an autoimmune disease in which the skin loses its pigment; it is the most common pigment disorder worldwide.[ii],[iii] Despite this prevalence and patients’ need for treatment, there is a gap – or white space – in the availability of safe and effective medications.

What can be done to improve patient access to treatments? Earlier this year, I was invited to address this issue of innovation and access at the Winter Clinical Dermatology Conference, a continuing medical education conference for dermatologists.

In my opinion, the first step to overcoming barriers to patient access is bringing new safe and effective medications to market. In response to the low priority that the pharmaceutical industry has placed on developing treatments for skin conditions, Aclaris focuses on discovering and developing compounds that could become therapies for conditions that fall into the white space of dermatology and immunodermatology. We have expertise in identifying promising work from research labs – like the early scientific work on Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitors conducted at Columbia University – and then translating this work into the clinic. Right now, we are conducting clinical trials with multiple JAK inhibitor compounds for the treatment of alopecia areata and vitiligo – with the hope that one day we may have new medicines that will benefit millions of patients worldwide.

Unfortunately, even when treatments are available, too many interests interfere with the physician-patient relationship and limit patients’ access to care. My perspective is that the issue is three-fold, involving third-party payers, chain drug stores and patients.

Third-party payers have extraordinary power to limit coverage for branded medicines and shift a large percentage of the cost of treatment to patients and their employers. Payers often do provide better coverage and reimbursement for the first FDA-approved medication for a disease, so our strategy of focusing on the white spaces may help avoid reimbursement headwinds. Additionally, the business practices of chain drug stores sometimes add to the cost burden for patients, even for generic drugs. In some cases, generics are priced at 80 percent of the brand. And with increasing consolidation in that industry, patients have been left with very few alternatives. It will be interesting to see how the entry of Amazon as a new competitor affects the landscape.

That brings me to patients. I believe that some of the responsibility for access to treatment falls on patients themselves. Patients don’t always realize that when they prioritize convenience – say by seeking care for a skin condition at an urgent care facility or a clinic in a pharmacy – they may be sacrificing a good outcome that would have been accessible through the expertise of a board-certified dermatologist. Also, patients who see dermatologists should understand that not every treatment can be submitted to their insurance. They must keep in mind that they have to pay out-of-pocket for treatments whose sole purpose is to improve appearance, such as the removal of asymptomatic benign lesions like seborrheic keratoses (SKs).

Scientific innovation and openness to change are fundamental to the culture of Aclaris. We are committed to identifying, developing and commercializing therapies to address the white spaces in aesthetic and medical dermatology and immunodermatology. I’m confident we can do our part to increase patient access to transformative medicines.



[i] National Alopecia Areata Foundation. FAQ's. Available at: https://www.naaf.org/faqs. Retrieved May 30, 2017.

[ii] Boniface K, et al. New Insights Into Immune Mechanisms of Vitiligo. G Ital Dermatol Venereol. 2016 Feb;151(1):44-54. Epub 2015 Oct 29. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26512930.

[iii] American Vitiligo Research Foundation. Fitzpatrick T., et al. Vitiligo Facts. Available at: http://www.avrf.org/facts/viti...

Oct 03, 2017 | Focus on Patients

Skin, the largest organ of the human body,[1] plays a critical role in the immune system, providing a physical barrier against foreign substances and acting as an immunologic organ.[2] Human skin contains an estimated 20 billion T cells – a white blood cell that is an important part of the body’s immune response – far greater than the number of T cells found circulating in blood.[3]

Unfortunately, despite the amazing efficiency and precision with which the skin and immune systems work together, things sometimes do go wrong. These “errors” can lead to autoimmune dermatological disorders such as a type of hair loss known as alopecia areata, and other conditions including eczema, psoriasis and vitiligo.

As our understanding of the immune systems grows, one of the most exciting areas of dermatology research is the development of highly targeted immuno-therapeutics that have the potential to change approaches to managing skin disorders. Aclaris Therapeutics is working in this cutting-edge field of immunodermatology, working with several families of immunomodulators targeting Janus kinase (JAK), interleukin-2 inducible kinase (ITK) or the p38/MK2 pathway. These intracellular signaling pathways are involved with many aspects of the body’s immune responses, including skin inflammation.[4]

The first of the four JAK enzymes was discovered in the early 1990s by researchers at the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Subsequent studies showed that genetic defects in a particular JAK, JAK3, can cause severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID).[5] In fact, many of you may be familiar with the medical case of David Vetter, dubbed “the bubble boy,” who suffered from SCID. It was his case that ultimately led to the discovery of JAK and spawned the idea that drugs blocking these proteins might be protective against the damaging inflammation of certain autoimmune diseases.[6]

At Aclaris, we are diligently working on oral and topical JAK inhibitor candidates, which are in clinical testing for conditions including alopecia areata. Our research and development team also is actively looking at the application of JAK inhibitors for the potential treatment of androgenetic alopecia, also known as male/female pattern baldness.

We find the potential for immunodermatology so promising that we recently acquired Confluence Life Sciences, Inc., a company focused on discovery of new kinase inhibitors. The Confluence acquisition expands our anti-inflammation and immunology pipeline. Confluence has developed a family of complementary JAK inhibitors, including unique, skin-targeted JAK1/3 inhibitors that we will evaluate for the potential treatment of alopecia areata and, possibly, other skin disorders. These skin-targeted, “soft” JAK inhibitors are designed to be active in the skin but rapidly metabolized in the circulation.

ITK inhibitors, a second category of kinase inhibitors was acquired by us as part of the acquisition of Confluence. This kinase is involved with T cell signaling, and it has a particularly potent influence on Th17 cells and their expression of interleukin-17. We have plans to evaluate ITK inhibitors in psoriasis and related pathologies.

A third drug class that has come to Aclaris via Confluence is called p38/MK2 pathway inhibitors. One can think of these drugs as “oral anti-TNFα and anti-IL1β” agents. P38/MK2 is the central pathway involved in all chronic inflammation.

Finally, with the Confluence acquisition, we not only expanded our inflammation and immunology pipeline, but also gained a drug discovery engine led by some of the leading researchers in the field.

As a dermatologist-led biopharmaceutical company focused on identifying, developing and commercializing innovative and differentiated therapies to address significant unmet needs in medical and aesthetic dermatology, we are proud to be on the front lines of immunodermatology.


[1] Swann, G. Editorial. Journal of Visual Communication in Medicine. 2010; 4:148-149
[2] Salmon JK, Armstrong CA, Ansel JC. The skin as an immune organ. Western Journal of Medicine. 1994;160(2):146-152.
[3] Seneschal J, Clark RA, Gehad A, Baecher-Allan CM, Kupper TS. Human Epidermal Langerhans Cells Maintain Immune Homeostasis in Skin by Activating Skin Resident Regulatory T Cells. Immunity. 2012;36(5):873-884. doi:10.1016/j.immuni.2012.03.018.
[4] Schwartz DM, Bonelli M, Gadina M, O’Shea JJ. Type I/II cytokines, JAKs, and new strategies for treating autoimmune diseases. Nature Reviews Rheumatology. 2016;12(1):25-36. doi:10.1038/nrrheum.2015.167.
[5] Notarangelo LD, Mella P, Jones A, de Saint Basile G, Savoldi G, Cranston T, Vihinen M, Schumacher RF. Mutations in severe combined immune deficiency (SCID) due to JAK3 deficiency. Hum Mutat. 2001 Oct;18(4):255-63.
[6] Cossu F. Genetics of SCID. Italian Journal of Pediatrics. 2010;36:76. doi:10.1186/1824-7288-36-76.

Aclaris Therapeutics is a biopharmaceutical company founded by dermatologists and dedicated exclusively to dermatology. As one of those founders and President and Chief Executive Officer of Aclaris, I’m privileged to lead a team that is committed to developing and commercializing innovative medical and aesthetic treatments for dermatologic conditions. We are focused on skin and hair conditions characterized by underserved patient populations in which treatment gaps exist, or no FDA-approved medications are available for patients. Dermatology patients are at the heart of everything we do, and our goal is to empower patients with choices by bringing to market new treatments with the potential to improve the way they look and feel.

Aclaris is dedicated to developing impactful medicines for the ultimate benefit of the patient. It’s what motivates our team every day. We are committed to addressing patients’ needs not only through innovation but also through a laser-like focus on our core competencies in identifying, developing, achieving regulatory approval for, and commercializing new treatments for underserved skin and hair conditions.

An example of an innovation that was born in clinical practice and developed by industry is a new topical treatment for rosacea approved by the FDA in January 2017 and marketed by Allergan plc as Rhofade™. This medicine has the potential to help millions who suffer from rosacea, a common facial skin disorder that causes many patients significant distress. Dr. Stuart D. Shanler, my fellow dermatologist and Chief Scientific Officer of Aclaris, co-invented the treatment and spent years on its development because he saw a real unmet need in the rosacea patients he cared for while practicing dermatology.

Sometimes, great advances in medicine come out of the basic science research efforts of academic centers. For example, a research team at Columbia University Medical Center led by Angela Christiano, Ph.D., identified the immune cells responsible for destroying hair follicles in people with alopecia areata, an autoimmune disease that causes hair loss. These researchers then tested a drug in the family of Janus Kinase (JAK) inhibitors approved by the FDA for another disease and found it eliminated these immune cells and restored hair growth in a small number of patients. Aclaris licensed the intellectual property from Columbia University to develop medicines for patients with alopecia areata and other dermatological conditions who currently have no satisfactory treatment options.

Identifying new approaches to serving dermatology patients was the reason I decided to switch to the industry side of health care. I realized my impact could be greater than the fulfilling work I was engaged in as a practicing dermatologist. At Aclaris, offering new options to people suffering from dermatologic conditions is always on our minds, hence our dedication to Illuminating Science, Empowering Patients.