RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
In parts of the Middle East, people drink camel milk. It boasts more vitamin C and iron than cow's milk, and it's lower in fat. But in Missouri, here in the U.S., some people are starting to rub it on their skin. That's because a Jordanian woman is bringing camel milk to the Midwest, in the form of a skin care line.
Kristofor Husted, of member station KBIA, reports.
KRISTOFOR HUSTED, BYLINE: Today, there are seven camels at a farm in Jordan waiting to be milked. That milk will go to a biotech company in Amman, called MONOJO. The scientists there analyze the milk of the one-hump mammals, looking for three special antibodies.
Antibodies are proteins that help fight off infections. They latch onto foreign pathogens and tell the body's immune system: intruder alert. Typically, these antibodies degrade in higher temperatures and acidic environments. But antibodies in camel milk are stronger.
PENELOPE SHIHAB: We found that those proteins are very, very stable against temperature - high temperature, and against high acidity.
HUSTED: That's Penelope Shihab, the founder MONOJO in Jordan, and the woman behind the startup in Missouri.
SHIHAB: I don't know, maybe the reason because the camel can tolerate high temperature in the desert. So some of the scientists say that, but we couldn't confirm any of those suggestions.
HUSTED: Shihab's research team tested these camel milk antibodies on acne. Immunologist Khaled Al-Qaoud, Shihab's research and development manager, says camel antibodies succeed where others fail because they remain intact longer at the site of inflammation. He says it was the results of their acne study that led them to develop a camel milk treatment.
DR. KHALED AL-QAOUD: We use skin formulas; like, for example, gel or cream or serum, any type of formulation; and we put the whey of the camel - whey that contains the antibodies - in this formula.
HUSTED: The creams look similar to the ones you find at the drugstore. They're milky white and floral-scented. Shihab says she's commercializing this formula in the U.S. first because Middle Eastern consumers trust American brands. Her colleague directed her to Missouri, a small market where she could learn the ropes of the U.S. biotech industry.
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JAKE HALLIDAY: This is an $80,000 autoclave. Obviously, there's no need for our companies each to buy one if we can put it in a shared resource area.
HUSTED: Jake Halliday heads the University of Missouri's Life Sciences Business Incubator here in Columbia, where 25 startup companies share lab space and equipment. Shihab's office sits in the corner. A piece of paper with the name Columbia Biotech is affixed to the cubical. Jake Halliday says Shihab's product is just what the incubator looks for.
HALLIDAY: They should have technologies that in turn, would become products or services - but mainly products - that have the potential to achieve $20 million in sales a year, after about four or five years of development in the company.
HUSTED: Shihab calls her product Skinue and is trying to get it approved as an acne treatment by the Food and Drug Administration. Meanwhile, she's lined up a supplier in Dubai - a 3,000-camel farm to supply milk for the Skinue line, which now includes a moisturizer and a foot cream.
Samples have been passed out to spas and salons across Columbia.Still, Shihab says she's aware of the challenges she faces breaking into an unfamiliar market.
SHIHAB: It's a male-dominated industry. Yes, that's true. But where I started, in the Middle East, there is no men nor is there - no women. (Laughter) So I am the only woman in the country who's the CEO for a biotech company. That was really, very difficult. Tough for me.
HUSTED: If sales go well in Missouri, Shihab plans to take her Skinue line into the Chicago and New York markets next, before expanding nationwide.
For NPR News, I'm Kristofor Husted in Columbia.