Dr. Suzanne Saffie-Siebert, Ph.D., might run a global bio-pharmaceutical company, but her favorite place in the world is still her lab, where she and her team have spent almost ten years developing an innovative drug delivery system that targets and releases proven ingredients over time. Through this technology, ingredients in medications—and skincare products—can realize their full potential.
We sat down with Dr. Saffie-Siebert, the founder of SiSaf and Good Science Beauty, to discuss her career in science and how she came to create companies that are fueled by research.
Tell us about your background as a scientist. How about starting from the beginning?
Sure. As you might know, I was born in Iran. Although most of my family worked in fields unrelated to science, my great-grandfather was known as a medicine man, which I didn’t know until I was around 10 years old. I formed a kind of connection with him. Weirdly enough, ever since I was a child, I would prepare remedies for my family—if you had a stomach ache, I’d create medicine for you. At the time, no one in the family understood where this passion came from.
When I was a teenager, the Iranian Revolution happened and my world was turned upside down. My father was a senior official at the Ministry of Education, and like so many others, we went through lots of changes and started over in London, but it was tough. I worked at a pharmacy as a source of income and got to put my skills to good use.
Later, I enrolled in the University of London School of Pharmacy. I wasn’t sure about going back to school, but my boss at the pharmacy suggested I get my PhD because I enjoyed research. When I started my studies in 1994, gene therapy was a burgeoning field, and I ended up becoming the first student in the School of Pharmacy that did a PhD on using a delivery system to incorporate plasmid DNA of Hepatitis B. It was a complicated and diverse research project, but for me, it was an exciting time, exploring unknown territory. My love for research and development hasn’t stopped since.
With your extensive career in pharmaceuticals, it seems natural that you would start your own company. Can you tell us about SiSaf?
When we created SiSaf, we wanted to focus on drug-delivery research, a field I was working in for almost 15 years before I started the company. Drug delivery centers on vehicles that deliver drugs to the source of a medical problem. A drug doesn’t understand if it needs to go to the head, the shoulder, the skin, or any other part of the body, which means if you’re in pain, you’ll take a high dose of a drug when you actually only need a few milligrams delivered effectively. You have to take such a high dosage because the drug needs to be distributed to the whole body before it reaches the target.
One example of this is using chemotherapy to fight cancer. The drug will kill the cancer cells, but it’ll also attack healthy cells, which leads to a weak immune system. With drug delivery, we hope to point the medicine to the affected area and spare the rest of the body.
The development of new and more effective molecules for any disease—including cancer, Alzheimer’s, diabetes—is expensive, time-consuming, and risky. If we could improve the performance of existing beneficial molecules without going through another 15 years of research to discover a new molecule, it would make all the difference for a patient. And this is what I want to do with our technology: Make existing ingredients work better. SiSaf’s technology could unlock new ways to treat dementia, multiple sclerosis, and many other illnesses.
The same is true of our skin. The top layer of our skin, the stratum corneum, won’t let anything through because its job is to protect us. Although it doesn’t expose us to bad things, it also won’t let in good things, which is why a lot of skin care isn’t effective. Because of this, people turn to oral medication and injections to solve their skin issues. We wanted to provide an alternative to more invasive treatment, so we created Good Science Beauty, a skin care line that uses our unique technology to get to the core of the problem.
Stay tuned for part two of our Q&A with Dr. Saffie-Siebert, and learn more about her science-based philosophy by visiting the Good Science Beauty page.