JAN. 12, 2006 | Almost 19 years ago, pharmaceutical researcher Bill Gurley, Ph.D., was a graduate student enjoying a visit to
Sitting in his office recently at the
He had pledged first to be more careful in the sun, but he also was determined that if he got sunburned again he would have something to provide relief. The research and experimentation that followed resulted in a potent treatment, said Gurley, professor of pharmaceutical sciences in the
“The stuff works,” he said.
Satisfied with his product but lacking time to pursue a market for it, Gurley gave the cream to friends and colleagues while becoming a national figure in the ephedra supplement debate. His research on the dangers of ephedra-based supplements established him as an expert, and his court testimony and national media exposure helped lead to the 2004 Food and Drug Administration ban on ephedra-based supplements.
More recently, word of Gurley’s cream made it to Lydia Carson of Little Rock, who last year created a UAMS BioVentures startup called Balm Innovations LLC, to market the cream.
Called Omnibalm, the cream became available commercially in December, with 11 USA Drug stores in central
Omnibalm’s main ingredient is tea tree oil, which comes from
“Tea tree oil has a lot of unique medicinal properties,” Gurley said. “It has natural anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. And it also acts as a skin permeation enhancer, which allows skin cells to absorb it a lot quicker.”
Years of experimenting have enabled Gurley to deliver a high concentration of the oil in an elegant, nongreasy cream. Still, it’s not a cosmetic lotion, he said, noting the cream’s strong tea tree oil scent. “You don’t put it on and go out on a date. You put it on because you’ve got a problem and you want something to help alleviate it,” he said.
Over the years, a growing number of Gurley’s friends and colleagues have said the cream is a staple of their medicine cabinets. It has drawn many enthusiastic testimonials about its healing effects for burns, bug bites, bed sores – and even “hot spots” on dogs, but scientific testing is necessary before the cream can be marketed as a treatment for those things.
For now Omnibalm will claim relief for a variety of skin conditions, including itching, dry skin, roughness, cracking and chafing. Carson and Gurley said they eventually will seek FDA approval so they can pitch the cream’s other benefits.
Gurley’s continuing research of misleading supplements’ claims also has influenced how Omnibalm will be marketed.
“We’re not making a bunch of grandiose claims,” he said. “If you try it and it works, cool.”
Carson and Gurley hope that a wide distribution of Omnibalm samples will convince people, just as it has their friends and colleagues.