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Bionona sticks to online sales in launch of eczema treatment

Thursday 9th February 2017

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Bionona has launched its Atopis eczema cream treatment and will stick to online sales as it chases "a couple of million" in sales in the first year. 

The cream is the brainchild of chief executive Iona Weir, the biochemist who oversaw the development of the Phloe laxative, and has taken four-to-five years to develop in her garage. The research behind the cream came from her Marsden Fund-backed work on programmed cell death in plants known as apoptosis, and through that time attracted Callaghan Innovation support for its second clinical trial in New Zealand during 2015. 

Weir told BusinessDesk she wants Atopis to be the number one eczema product in New Zealand and is also targeting sales in the US in a state-by-state roll-out, starting with Colorado. 

"In the States, one-in-ten people in the United States has eczema, so even if we get 1 percent of that market, then that's an incredible sized market," she said. 

When asked what kind of sales volume target she wants to hit in the first 12 months, Weir said she was aiming for "at least a couple of million". When Vital Foods launched Phloe in 2007, Weir said it sold out in the first morning and was targeting three million units in the first year. 

The company chose to avoid wholesalers and distributors and stick to online sales after her experience with Phloe, which generated half of its sales through online channels. 

"We discovered online seemed a much better option," she said. "Why would we lose all that money to wholesalers and distributors if we had a proper online marketing campaign?"

Bionona attracted the backing of former NPT executive chairman Paul Dallimore who used the cream on his own grandchildren and was so impressed that he put money into the first clinical testing in the US three years ago. 

The company's New Zealand manufacturing will be done out of a factory in Onehunga, while Douglas Pharmaceuticals will cover its over-the-counter grade creams in the US. 

Weir said the company has the ability to scale up quickly, with Dallimore "and some of his mates" putting money into the business, and expects to have about 18 months lead-time before "people try to copy us".

She shied away from raising money from the market after a previous experience with venture capitalists put her off, and decided "this time I'm going to take a slower path and do it all myself before bringing the money in".

"It's taken me three times as long, but it's been much more worthwhile," she said.

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