Sep 27, 2023

Bright Future for Light Therapy Firm BioPhotas

Patrick Johnson says his medical device company's product to reduce wrinkles through low-level light therapy has three distinct advantages over aesthetics industry competitors that supply neurotoxins like Botox.

"It's nontoxic, noninvasive, natural—we’re just reminding the body how to heal itself," Johnson, co-founder and chief executive of Tustin-based BioPhotas Inc., told the Business Journal during a tour of the company's new facility.

"It takes a little longer to see results as opposed to a neurotoxin, but you got the results naturally. The skin doesn't become rigid."

BioPhotas, which he founded along with Kathleen Buchanan in 2011, is gaining traction, with sales to consumers and medical professionals approaching $25 million annually and nearing 50 employees.

The company on June 19 is inaugurating its new headquarters on Red Hill Avenue in Tustin. Its 25,000-square-foot facility, which is on a five-year lease, is at an office complex that sits across the street from the Tustin Legacy development. The new facility is double the size of its prior facility in Anaheim's Platinum Triangle.

The reason for the move is simple.

"It's the growth that we’ve been experiencing and the growth that we’re planning," he said. "We bit off more than we can chew when we picked this facility. We think we can triple our size in this facility."

Like Hydration

Johnson has a deep background in medical devices, having worked as CEO of Pro-Dex Inc., a maker of powered surgical products, and as divisional general manager at Sybron Dental Specialties, a one-stop shop for endodontists.

He was initially skeptical about light therapy, which was developed at NASA (see story, this page).

Before Johnson began the company, he did a three-month deep dive into the industry, becoming impressed with the clinical research done at some of the world's most prestigious research centers. The company's worked with wound healing researchers at UCI Beckman Laser Institute & Medical Clinic, among others.

"Light therapy is the functional equivalent of hydration. It's good for everything," Johnson said.

"As we age, our bodies lose the ability to heal themselves the way they were originally designed. The fundamental benefit of light therapy is getting the body back to repairing itself the way it was originally designed."

He also found why other companies failed at this new technology.

"It seemed the people who tried to commercialize this technology came and went very quickly," he said. "My diagnosis was they were trying to be cosmetic companies. They weren't trying to be high road medical device companies. That's the approach we took. We’re going to do the heavy regulatory lifting to bring products to market."

BioPhotas also went through Octane's Launchpad accelerator for business and life sciences companies.

Orthopedics Background

Because of Johnson's background in orthopedics, he knew how the industry employed bendable thermal devices to manage pain and accelerate healing. When he started BioPhotas, he saw competitors use rigid flat panels that hung over the patients.

"Intuitively, it struck me that if you could wrap the area of treatment, it would be more effective," he said. "The key differentiator to our product is that it's flexible in the area of treatment."

He was able to reduce the costs from as much as $15,000 charged by competitors down to $1,200 by using fewer lights and less energy.

"If you can get light emissions closer to the skin, the light doesn't have to be as powerful. By decreasing the power of the device, you take a lot of cost out of it."


Nowadays, BioPhotas’ key product line, called Celluma, has received Food and Drug Administration approval to treat acne, wrinkles, arthritis and muscle and joint aches.

Celluma delivers a combination of blue, red and near-infrared light energy that can switch its technology to treat specific conditions at various layers in the skin.

The company's website lists Celluma products ranging from $299 to treat skin conditions, to $1,645 for its flagship product to remove wrinkles, to $15,000 for a full body case.

Johnson says hair restoration will become a bigger part of the company's business, noting that besides men becoming balder, about 40% of women over 40 report hair loss.

For now, aesthetics such as removing wrinkles or acne is the key growth driver.

"People want to retain a youthful look and light therapy is really good for that," he said. "The beauty market has huge growth drivers, even in a down economy."

The light therapy isn't the same as sitting in the sun because it doesn't have UV lights, Johnson said.

Debt-Free, Profitable

The company, which was initially funded by high-net-worth individuals, is debt-free and has been profitable for the past five years, he said.

"As an operator, your job is to make money. When we founded BioPhotas, I brought that approach to it. It wasn't about building sales as quickly as possible and losing a lot of money that some subsequent round of investors would have to pay for it," Johnson said.

"I see this company as my professional dissertation. Throughout my professional career, I always made notes to myself about when I own my own company, it's going to be different. To a great degree, BioPhotas is the company that I always wanted to work for."

The ‘Hyper-Aging’ Effects of Space Travel

BioPhotas Inc.'s principal product, Celluma, got a development push thanks to NASA.The U.S. space agency, which was worried about the effect of gravity on astronauts during long-term space missions, developed light emitting diode therapy and in 2000, it issued a press release discussing the "healing power of light."

"Using powerful light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, originally designed for commercial plant growth research in space, scientists have found a way to help patients here on Earth," NASA said.

In 2015, NASA conducted a double-blind study on Scott Kelly, who was in space for a year, and his twin brother Mark Kelly, also an astronaut who spent the year on Earth mimicking exercises by his brother.

"Scott came back significantly more aged and, in less health, than Mark who stayed on Earth," BioPhotas CEO Patrick Johnson said.

"NASA was looking for a way to counteract that effect on deep space exploration, particularly when you’re thinking of sending astronauts to Mars, where the fast track is a couple of years," he said. "There are a whole bunch of implications on retaining good cellular functions here on Earth.

"It turns out that cellular functions rely on gravity. In the absence of that gravity, bad things start to happen," Johnson said. "Essentially the body enters a state of hyper aging."

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Like Hydration Orthopedics Background Celluma Debt-Free, Profitable The ‘Hyper-Aging’ Effects of Space Travel