Obesity: Super-Sized Medical Device Market
This article was originally published in Start Up
Obesity is a multi-hundred billion dollar market ready and waiting for device developers to catch up to fill an enormous unmet need. Between the low risk, low benefit drug options for overweight patients, and the high risk, high benefit surgeries for the morbidly obese, there's a huge gap in terms of therapies. This sweet spot covers a segement of over 50 million obese patients without weight loss options. Companies with new devices for obesity hope to serve that population; the market is existing and underserved, reimbursement risk is eliminated--since many patients will pay out of pocket to have weight loss procedures--so the remaining risk revolves around technology. However, technology risk in a multi-factorial disease whose mechanisms are poorly understood is significant.
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It's not often that a company in the medical device industry, where most new products offer incremental innovation, has a chance to change the world. Start-up GI Dynamics does, though. Shooting for a non-invasive device that would replicate some of the benefits of the invasive Roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgery in obesity, it discovered that an endoscopically delivered implant appears to be extremely effective in type 2 diabetes, as is the predicate gastric bypass. Simple and non-invasive, the technology is potentially disruptive by reversing the disease, not just managing its symptoms. (See also the sidebar to this article: "A Mechanistic Look at Diabetes Surgery: An Interview with Francesco Rubino." )
Obesity has become an epidemic, with 30% of the U.S. population obese and an additional 35% overweight, including children and adolescents. Bariatric surgical procedures have skyrocketed in recent years, with hospital costs exceeding $1.2 billion, and good success rates. However, for certain groups, such as patients over 65, the risks of bariatric surgery may outweigh the benefits. Much needs to be done to address this troubling and growing public health problem.
Obesity is no longer merely a lifestyle-related condition; it's a worldwide epidemic with life-threatening consequences. Satiety is developing a device-based alternative to surgery that could expand the market for both physicians and patients.