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Treating Obesity - A Super-Sized Opportunity for Device Manufacturers

Originally Published MPMN September 2005

EDITOR'S PAGE

Treating Obesity—A Super-Sized Opportunity for Device Manufacturers

Treatments for the obese may well be the next super-sized market segment for the medical device industry and its suppliers. The demand for products to take care of these patients is steadily growing. Surgical treatments alone for the care of the morbidly obese have increased 500% over the last 10 years, according to Jeffrey Barnes, of Oxford Bioscience Partners, a venture capital firm in Boston.

Currently, 64.5% of adults in the United States age 20 years and older are overweight or obese, according to the American Obesity Association. And obesity is second only to smoking as a preventable cause of death.

In an effort to reduce their patients’ weights, and therefore the risks to their health, physicians have increasingly been recommending surgical intervention, such as gastric bypass surgery. This operation restricts food intake and absorption into the body.

However, this technique is not without its problems. It has a relatively high mortality rate, is very invasive, and is not reversible. Serious side effects include ulcers, wound infections, and hernias.

New methods for treatment need to be developed. This creates a tremendous opportunity for medical device manufacturers.

“When there is a large untreated patient population and you have a significant increase in [available] surgical treatments, coupled with the fact that the surgical treatments are not without their complications, this all spells opportunity for the medical device industry,” says Barnes in the Venture Capital Journal.

Medtronic (Minneapolis) recognizes this potential. It recently purchased Transneuronix, which makes the Transcend II gastric simulator. This product is implanted in the body and zaps the stomach or certain nerves in the digestive system with an electrical current. It is similar to the way a cardiac pacemaker works. The idea behind these jolts of electricity is that they will modify eating behavior by regulating appetite signals. It may also work to boost metabolism, which can lead to weight loss.

Another company looking into such implants is Leptos Biomedical (San Diego).
It is developing a device that delivers an electrical charge to the same part of the nervous system that is activated by exercise. It may be able to help people lose weight by boosting metabolism.

EnteroMedics (St. Paul, MN) is also testing the waters in the obesity treatment market. It is collaborating with the Mayo Clinic (Rochester, MN) to test an implant that uses electrical charges to inhibit the main nerve leading to the stomach. This may slow down digestion because the stomach doesn’t register the food and, therefore, does not start the digestive process. Clinical trials begin later this year.

Obesity is a wide-open field for medical device manufacturers and suppliers of electronic products as well as providers of electronic outsourcing services. Opportunities abound. And “the regulatory environment may be moving on to reimbursement,” says Carl Goldfischer, a medical doctor and a managing director at venture capital firm Bay City Capital (San Francisco). This is because the medical need for treating obesity is so acute, he says in the Venture Capital Journal.

With all these factors in its favor, it looks like the market for obesity-treating devices may put a whole new spin on lean manufacturing.

Susan Shepard, Managing Editor

Copyright ©2005 Medical Product Manufacturing News

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