Every so often, before he started the $465 million pharmaceutical company Medicis, Jonah Shacknai would observe the curious habits of women at department store cosmetics counters. “I used to watch the way they would look in the mirror,” says the buzz-cut, 51-year-old founder, chairman and chief executive officer, sitting in a faux-homey conference room in Medicis’s new Scottsdale, Arizona, headquarters. “Their habits were fascinating to me; the way they interacted with and trusted the consultants.” Today, though women still flock to see white-coated salesgirls, they’re just as likely to seek solutions from syringe-wielding doctors, a shift that can be credited in large part to Medicis’s revolutionary face fillers Restylane and Perlane.
Since the Eighties, people have gotten shots of collagen or their own fat to maintain a youthful visage. But nothing shook up the filler front like the 2003 FDA approval of Restylane, a hyaluronic acid gel that plumps safely, lasts for months and is now used by doctors for everything from wrinkles and lips to nonsurgical browlifts. “There were two products that really changed how we do things cosmetically,” says Jeannette Graf, a dermatologist in Great Neck, New York. “Botox and Restylane.” (While the former temporarily eliminates wrinkles by immobilizing muscles, the latter actually fills lines with material, hence the term “filler.”) Manhattan plastic surgeon Michael Kane adds, “Restylane didn’t just take market share from collagen, it grew the market by a factor of five.” (Both Graf and Kane have worked as consultants for Medicis and other drug companies; Kane is currently involved in clinical trials for the firm.) Medicis’s follow-up product, Perlane, which was approved in 2007, is a more robust, longer-lasting version of Restylane and made for deeper wrinkles and folds; Kane even prefers it to implants for adding volume to cheeks and chins. In the coming years, Medicis, a 20-year-old company whose profits still stem largely from acne drugs like Solodyn and Ziana, will release new technologies—including the first Botox competitor—that could once again reshape the way we think about a little nip and tuck.
“They’re building an aesthetic portfolio,” says New York plastic surgery consultant Wendy Lewis, who has written for the company’s Web site and conducted workshops for it. “They have the cash to do it, mainly because they’ve done so well with Restylane. And it gave them entrée into plastic surgery.”
Medicis’s first official foray into that arena came this past June, when it announced the acquisition of LipoSonix, a Bothell, Washington, company with an ultrasound fat-reduction device that could give new meaning to the term “noninvasive.” A sleek wand emitting ultrasonic energy is guided along the abdomen (the hips, butt and thighs are also being studied as possible target areas) for about an hour to obliterate fat cells, which, LipoSonix claims, are then gradually eliminated through the lymphatic system. There are no needles, not even pinpricks, involved. “Who doesn’t want that?” Lewis says. “The question to me is how good are the results going to be, and that remains to be seen.” Clinical trials are expected to begin soon in the U.S., and the jury is out on exactly how many inches can be lost and which areas of the body can best benefit from the machine. It’s already being used in Europe, where the procedure costs about $4,000. Lewis adds that because of its wide appeal and relative ease of operation, it’s the type of service that has the potential to one day be available in strip malls and medi-spas.