From toenails to TB

John Strisower’s quest to harness the healing power of light

Photo By Robert Speer

John Strisower’s goal is to find a treatment for tuberculosis, AIDS and other killer diseases, but first he’s going after toenail fungus.

Don’t laugh. As they say in business, “Start small"—or, as Strisower puts it, “Start simple.” Besides, there’s a huge market in toenail fungus, as shown by all those Lamasil commercials.

Strisower, a fit man of 45 with a trim brown beard, is the founder and chairman of UVaCide, a company located at the Chico airport whose slogan is “Healing at the speed of light.” Sunlight, he points out, is the original disinfectant, and his company is seeking to develop light-based disinfectant devices to treat diseases caused by viral, bacteriological and fungal pathogens in human tissue.

For Strisower, it all began when two of the people closest to him, his father and his daughter, were stricken by virulent infections.

In 1998 his father, a retired cardiologist, caught a cold, coughed too hard and ruptured his esophagus. He went to Enloe Hospital for surgery, which was successful, but he contracted an infection, was in intensive care for 17 days, then died.

Strisower’s daughter, Jessica, has cystic fibrosis. In 2003, when she was 12, she got an untreatable bacteriological infection in her congested lungs. She was near death when, by “a miracle,” two donors, both strangers, were found who made good matches and were each willing to donate one of their five lumbar lobes. Today Jessica is an active teenager, though she is on a massive regimen of anti-rejection drugs.

These painful experiences led Strisower to think of other ways to treat such illnesses, and he thought of light—how to get light into the body in a way that kills the pathogens.

Strisower has built several businesses around technological advances in various industries. He’s the founder and former CEO, for example, of PRC Gaming Systems (1993-97) and Travidia Inc. (1998-2006). The former developed and patented the PitTrak System for tracking players at casino table games, which it sold to Harrah’s, and the latter, also located at the airport, is a leading provider of Internet marketing management and digital advertising services for newspapers.

After his daughter’s lung transplant, Strisower started thinking about ways to harness light to destroy pathogens. One doctor he consulted thought his idea had merit but recommended he start with something simpler to treat than lung infections: toenail fungus. “It turned out that was a very smart idea,” Strisower said.

Seven percent to 10 percent of Americans suffer from toenail fungus, and nearly half of those over the age of 70 have it. Lamasil, an oral medication that has annual sales of $1 billion, is the best treatment available, but it’s expensive ($1,500) and has toxic side effects that make it inappropriate for many people.

The trick is to locate the exact point on the spectrum where the light does most damage to the pathogen and least to healthy tissue, Strisower explained. Each pathogen requires extensive testing.

Just last Thursday (Feb. 15), Strisower flew to Seattle to pick up a prototype of a machine to treat toenail fungus. Four local doctors who have the fungus have agreed to test it on themselves.

If it works, UVaCide will license manufacturing rights and take a cut of every sale. Strisower thinks dermatologists will go for it. They make no money off prescribing Lamasil but would cash in by offering in-office treatments that would be fast, safe and far less expensive than Lamasil.

UVaCide also is developing a light treatment for periodontitis, or gum disease, another pesty plague. The company recently acquired a freshly patented antimicrobial laser proven, in tests funded by the National Institute of Health, to kill p. gingivalis and other pathogens in the mouth. The market is huge: More than 200 million teeth cleanings are done each year in this country.

The company is seeking U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval for both these treatments, but that’s a long process. If the toenail treatment works, however, it can be offered as an elective procedure, and sales of the machines can be made prior to FDA approval.

Strisower says his next project will be to attack a viral pathogen. He believes light can be used to treat respiratory and blood-borne diseases such as tuberculosis and AIDS, and he’s determined to make it happen.

Strisower is raising $5 million in start-up capital, some his own, some from “angel investors.” He has an impressive staff of scientists and doctors located all over the country working with him (see for their bios) and said he “very conservatively” thinks he can grow UVaCide into a $50 million company in five years.