DermaTran Health Solutions, led by Rob Gussenhoven, has been operating out of the former State Mutual Insurance headquarters on Redmond Circle for about seven months.
“We are a real compounding pharmacy,” Gussenhoven said. “We also hope to come to the market with three over-the-counter products at some point in the next year.”
Gussenhoven is a licensed pharmacist in Alabama and California and has been doing compounding for three decades. “Compounding is where we do prescriptions, working with physicians, to meet needs that can’t be met with commercially available products,” Gussenhoven said. “What you’re really doing is customizing specific to the patients’ conditions.”
DermaTran’s specific business model is focused on the topical delivery of medications to treat pain syndromes.
“You can now drive medications across the skin barrier and (impact) much higher tissue levels than if you take the meds orally,” Gussenhoven said. “You don’t have the typical side effects, drowsiness, dry mouth, and you also don’t have the same inherent danger with your kidneys or your liver.”
Gussenhoven, who is the owner of DermaTran though he is listed as the chief science officer, started working with the trans-dermal introduction of medications years ago while working with a hospice group on the West Coast. He found his way to the Southeast about seven years ago and had been involved with several companies before he met Rome businessman Dee Yancey III.
“Dee came seeking me out,” Gussenhoven said. “I think he wanted to get more involved in the health care industry. I think he was looking for something a little more dynamic or robust than insurance.”
Richard Burton, a spokesman for State Mutual, Yancey’s longtime Rome company, said they saw it as an opportunity from the third party administration of insurance angle, then realized there was an opportunity to create some jobs right here in Rome.
Today, DermaTran Health Solutions employs 155 people at the facility in West Rome. Thirty-five are employed in the pharmacy lab; 13 of those are full-time pharmacists. The company also has labs and employees in Redding, Calif., and Louisville, Ky.
The pharmacy operation on Redmond Circle encompasses a little more than 4,800 square feet, and the third-party administration functions cover even more than that.
Lisa Cornett Harris, pharmacist-in-charge of the Rome lab, was employed for many years in retail pharmacies around Rome. “It’s very different because we’re treating people who have done the hydrocodones and the oxycodones and still have issues. This is an alternative for them,” Harris said. “We don’t get 15 phone calls every hour saying can I have my Lorcet Plus filled, I lost it, the dog ate it.”
Gussenhoven said one of the things Yancey brought to the table was a vision for making the operation more efficient with centralized control over a group of different pharmacies to go along with the third-party administration of the insurance.
DermaTran has aligned itself with a research and development arm through the University of Alabama, Birmingham, to help the company determine what is going to be the most cost effective in specific applications.
“We’re looking to develop a patient managed-care model to work with physicians to get better outcomes,” Gussenhoven said.
DermaTran is a long way from one simple medication. “The creams themselves don’t have proprietary or brand names,” Gussenhoven said. What he does have are approximately 800 different formulas at this point, formulas that anybody and everybody could make.
Compounding multiple medications, according to Gussenhoven, is in a constant state of evolution. “It takes upwards of 17 years sometimes to go through the new drug application process with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to bring something to the market,” Gussenhoven said.
The seven-month-old company’s initial patient surveys are showing a 40 percent average reduction of pain for all patients at four weeks after treatment was started.
The compounding process has been painted with a broad brush questioning safety since the process is not regulated by the federal Food and Drug Administration. Individual state Boards of Pharmacy regulate compounding.
The New England Compounding Center was linked to a fungal meningitis problem in 2012. Through the end of December 39 patients had died, and more than 300 others developed a meningitis infection directly linked to lots manufactured at the Massachusetts facility.
DermaTran does not mass distribute its topical creams. “You always have to have the triad in place, the pharmacy, physician and patient,” Gussenhoven said. It’s nothing like the NECC situation where 17,000 vials were sent out across two dozen states.
DermaTran also has a marriage with a technology company, Tech South, that is going to help track patient outcomes which Gussenhoven said is good both for the patients, the physician and the company.
“We’re utilizing technology and a clinical research organization to do data analytics to better determine and define what creams work best for what conditions and what type of side effects we may be seeing,” Gussenhoven said. “We’re taking a much more scientific approach to it.”