As a parent, I’m always thinking of my six year old son and how to keep him healthy and safe. I was surprised to hear of the idea of “clean medicine” – and learn more about how common medications oftentimes contain ingredients which could be harmful.
Genexa is a “clean medicine” company that is on a mission to get us to “Ditch the Dirty.” I caught up with cofounders David Johnson and Max Spielberg to find out more.
Afdhel Aziz: Max, David, welcome. Please tell us how the two of you came to start Genexa?
David Johnson: I grew up in a “nuts and seeds” type of household. My parents, both chiropractors, were particularly cognizant of everything health related. They always tried to choose natural and organic foods. In having my own kids now, I want to raise them similarly, using the cleanest ingredients whenever possible.
Max Spielberg: I have dealt with allergies my entire life. Only a few years ago I discovered that many of the OTC medicines we all know and use routinely, are, surprisingly, full of common allergens. I experienced adverse reactions from some of these allergens, one of which was even in my allergy medicines! David and I are longtime friends and when we both had kids, we became increasingly frustrated by the fever reducers or cough medicines on shelves that were full of synthetic and artificial ingredients. The medicines we trusted to make our kids feel better were actually full of artificial additives, frequently including synthetic dyes, flavorings, as well as common allergens.
Johnson: We decided we had to do something about this. With the rise of organic, clean label products in other industries (food, beauty, personal care and cleaning products), we thought the pharmaceutical industry – the industry making products intended to heal people – should have been at the forefront but was instead lagging behind. We got to work on creating a new kind of pharma company and found a way to make medicine with the same ingredients people need, but without the artificial ones they don’t. We launched Genexa in 2017 after two years of research, development and fundraising, and tremendous partners around us, namely Brian Perkins, former Worldwide Chairman, Consumer Pharmaceuticals & Nutritional’s at Johnson & Johnson. We’re 3 years in and have so much in store for the next few years!
Aziz: Thank you for sharing that. How would you articulate the purpose and the mission of the company?
Johnson: Genexa is on a mission to revolutionize the medicine aisle by making what we think of as real medicine clean. That means making products that have the same active ingredient – the ingredient that helps you feel better – but removing all of the artificial inactive ingredients. We replace the common allergens, synthetic dyes and artificial sweeteners with wholesome ingredients. For flavoring, we use organic blueberries instead of high fructose corn syrup. For coloring, we use organic strawberries instead of Red Dye #40. We do this because we believe people should feel good about what makes their families better. Our internal mantra is ‘people over everything.’ This drives us each and every day and in everything we do. We strive to make the world a better place, and our ambition is to make clean medicine available to all and educate people about what they are putting in their bodies.
Aziz: Can you explain what you mean by ‘Dirty’ ingredients and how your products are different?
Spielberg: Most OTC medicines have less than 10% of the active ingredient – like acetaminophen in a pain and fever reducer. The active ingredient is what is in the OTC product to help treat the problem. The other 90%+ of the medicine is composed of inactive ingredients. The inactive ingredients have multiple purposes such as taste, color, product delivery, and so on. Most OTC medicines on the shelves today include inactive ingredients like artificial sweeteners and dyes, lactose, gluten, propylene glycol (an ingredient found in antifreeze), wood pulp. It’s pretty surprising. Genexa takes out all of those unnecessary artificial inactive ingredients and replaces them with clean alternatives. As research from MIT and others have shown, these artificial ingredients can cause internal inflammation, allergic or adverse reactions, and may cause long term negative health effects. Medicines are supposed to make you feel better, not worse.
Johnson: The early years of R&D were focused on developing a first of its kind preservative system to create formulas with the same FDA-approved active ingredients as other leading brands, but without any artificial inactive ingredients. Our medicines are certified gluten-free, lactose-free and non-GMO. Most are also certified vegan. We have over two dozen products on the market today, including six new kids’ over-the-counter products that just hit shelves earlier this fall, and we are working on new formulations to hit the market in 2021 that will continue to clean up the medicine aisle.
Aziz: Do you feel like you’re creating a whole new category around ‘clean medicine’ and do you hope the rest of the pharma industry follows your lead?
Johnson: 100% yes. We are proudly the first clean medicine company, and most recently, the first to deliver clean over-the-counter medicine. We hope to ignite a sea change in the medicine aisle. So many industries have been cleaned up – food, beverage, beauty, skincare – it’s due time that pharma follows suit.
Aziz: Please tell us about the ‘Ditch the Dirty’ campaign and where people can go to find out more?
Spielberg: On October 13, we are launching #DitchtheDirty, a call to action asking consumers to ditch the dirty ingredients in their medicine cabinets. And when we say dirty, we are referring to those unnecessary artificial inactive ingredients in their medicines. Our hope is that this campaign will help to educate consumers, raising awareness as to the importance of carefully reading labels – including looking at the inactive ingredients in their medicines. We feel so confident in our mission that we’re actually giving away Genexa medicine to anyone that ditches the dirty. And, we’re fortunate enough to be partnering with a few notable, influential people who care deeply about health to help us spread the Ditch the Dirty message. We’ll have a few surprises along the way so check out www.ditchthedirty.com and keep an eye out!