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Russian struck gold with hair removal aid

Friday, September 14, 2007 9:54 AM

Fast fact

Penta water, [produced by a company of which Dr. Tankovich was a board member] was eventually withdrawn from the market in the U.K., although it continues to be sold in the U.S.

Dr. Nikolai Tankovich, president and chief medical officer of Stemedica, is a Russia-trained physician and physicist.

Stemedica's website says he holds a medical degree from Semashco Medical University in Moscow, a master of science degree in plasma physics from Moscow University and a Ph.D. in biophysics from Lomonosov Moscow University.

In the U.S. he has worked primarily as a researcher and a businessman -making and selling bottled water - and as an inventor of laser products used for cosmetic procedures.

He has 27 patents registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, according to the office's website. Most are for laser products for hair removal or skin treatments.

An article published in the New York Times on April 24, 2000 said Dr. Tankovich pioneered laser hair removal. He got his first idea for hair removal in the early 1990s when his lab technician who was operating a laser in conjunction with a carbon plate complained that all the hair of one of his arms had suddenly disappeared.

His first hair removal laser product to hit the market had to be withdrawn because it did not live up to its claims, but along with Dr. Maynard Howe he subsequently struck gold with a laser invention called Fraxel (see Dr. Howe's profile on page 4).

Penta bottled water, which was made and distributed by Bio-hydration Research Lab and Aquaphotonics, two companies based in California in which Dr. Tankovich had leading roles, was eventually withdrawn from the market in the U.K., after advertisers' claims about its supposed health benefits, could not be proven.

Dr. Tankovich has worked closely with brothers Maynard and Roger Howe, who are principals in Stemedica and Reliant Technologies.

According to a December 17, 2004 article in the San Diego Union-Tribune, Reliant Technologies licensed the concept that became Fraxel from Dr. Tankovich. The article said that Dr. Tankovich "patented a treatment concept that used the laser on only portions of the face, sparing much of the surface tissue."

Dr. Tankovich does not sit on the board of Reliant Technologies, but is a director and member of the Board of Advisors of another company, that the Howe brothers are involved with -Biopharma Scientific, which sells NanoGreens, a nutritional supplement.

Dr. Tankovich's first laser product cleared for the U.S. market was known as SoftLight. Expectations were high for its financial success. It was launched by the Thermolase Corporation, which went public on the American Stock Exchange in 1994, according to the website Hair Facts, which is run by an LA-based consumer activist, Andrea James. A year later, SoftLight received clearance from the FDA and by 1996, Thermolase's stock had reached an all-time high of $36.38.

But a year later, a clinical study of SoftLight's permanent hair removal properties found no long-term results. The study was carried out by the Washington Institute of Dermatologic Laser Surgery, in Washington D.C. in 1997.

Class action suit

In 1998, Thermolase moved from San Diego, California to Carrolltown, Texas. In May 1998, a class action suit was filed against Thermolase, which settled out of court the same year.

In October 1999, the Dallas Business Journal reported that Thermolase was planning to de-list from the American Stock Exchange because it had losses of $41.2 million on sales of $40 million for its fiscal year, ending September 1998.

Hair Facts said when Thermolase de-listed on August 15, 2000, its stock had lost 92 per cent of its value.

In 1999, the assets of the SoftLight Laser Company were sold to Telsar Laboratories, a company based in Wood River, Illinois. Telsar says on its website that in 2001 it purchased from CBI of Dallas, Texas and Dr. Tankovich, the manufacturing rights and intellectual property for the production and sales "of a unique patented lotion used in laser hair removal and skin resurfacing."

The New York Times, in its article, which was about the booming hair business industry, said that Thermolase had originally developed Dr. Tankovich's idea, but had withdrawn from the laser hair removal business, although no reasons were given.

There were parallels with the saga of SoftLight in the U.S. and Penta water in the U.K.

In March 2005, the U.K. Advertising Standards Authority ordered Penta's advertisers to revise its ads after a leaflet had attributed health benefits to Penta beyond that of ordinary tap water.

After taking what it said was "expert advice", the authority found that the claims - which were said to have been based on findings of researchers at the University of California at San Diego and Moscow University - could not be proven.

At the time, Dr. Tankovich was a member of the Board of Bio-Hydration Research and CEO of Aquaphotonics.

The controversy played out in the U.K. media, with noted sceptic James Randi and British physician Dr. Ben Goldacre, who writes a column Bad Science for The Guardian, both ridiculing Penta's claims.

Mark Henderson, in an article in The Times of London on March 27, 2004, described Penta's claims as "nonsense" and said Penta fans such as actresses Gwyneth Paltrow and Cameron Diaz "are being blinded by pseudoscience."

Penta was eventually withdrawn from the market in the U.K., although it continues to be sold in the U.S.

Dr. Tankovich's name surfaced two months after the Authority's ruling, when Aquaphotonics announced in a press release that he had joined the Scientific Advisory Board of U.S. firm Procter and Gamble.

James Randi - a Canadian-born U.S. citizen who has become internationally known for challenging paranormal claims and pseudoscience - wondered how "a supporter and purveyor of this quackery" ever get associated with such a reputable firm. Mr. Randi, a magician and scientific sceptic, is the founder of the James Randi Education Foundation, which seeks to promote critical thinking.

Procter and Gamble later issued a denial, it was reported on Mr. Randi's website, which also noted that the press release had been removed from Aquaphotonics' news page.

Aquaphotonics' website was taken down last year, although archived versions describe Penta as a consumer product based on its technology and that it had been the number one selling 500 ml drinking water in health food stores throughout the U.S. for three years.

Dr. Tankovich does not practise medicine in California - he is not licensed as a physician with the California Medical Board. The medical school that he attended in Russia does not appear on the list of universities that the California Medical Board recognizes. There is no suggestion that he has practised medicine without a licence or that his credentials are in doubt.

We first sought comment from Dr. Tankovich several weeks ago through Kendaree Burgess-Fairn, who is handling PR for the Brown-Darrell clinic, but none has been forthcoming.

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