Over one-third of U.S. adults are obese, increasing their risk of certain conditions including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and certain cancers. While bariatric procedures are indicated for refractory obesity with certain BMI criteria, those overweight individuals who do not quality are often at a loss for therapeutic solutions. The market for noninvasive innovations for these patients is emerging but is yet to have a consistently effective solution.
This is the challenge that Allurion Technologies, a company based in Wellesley, MA, is attempting to tackle. The company is developing a swallowable weight-loss device. In brief, the device is encased in a pill and contains a hydrogel that expands in the stomach to promote satiety. The device can then be dissolved via an oral solution. The company has received a $750,000 loan from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center Accelerator program and recently received $1.7 million in equity financing from 25 investors. We had the opportunity to speak with Allurion co-founder, Shantanu Gaur, about the company and its origins:
Ravi Parikh, Medgadget: What inspired you to start Allurion Technologies, and how did the idea of a weight loss “pill” come about?
Shantanu Gaur: The company started in my second year of medical school in 2009. The summer before, my classmate Sammy (Samuel Levy) and I had worked on a consulting project together with an Israeli medical device manufacturer. At the end of the summer, the CEO of the company said, “Guys, you’re at Harvard Medical School. Instead of consulting, you should come up with your own ideas.”
We took that advice to heart. At every lecture during our second year of medical school, Sammy and I would sit together during our lectures and come up with device interventions based on unmet needs mentioned in our lectures. The first 23 or so were utter failures. One day in our nutrition class we were learning about the obesity epidemic and different techniques to fill up the stomach (to induce satiety). Sammy turned to me and asked, “Is there a way to noninvasively fill the stomach?” I started to think about my undergraduate coursework, particularly a course on polymer chemistry. There I had learned that hydrogels were polymers that could swell to large volumes in the stomach environment.
That is how the idea started. Over the past three years it has been recycled and reiterated, and we have gotten to a point now where we feel comfortable that we have a device that could make a real impact on weight loss.
Medgadget: What can you tell us about the progress of the device now?
Gaur: Like most early startups, we are currently in “stealth mode.” However, I can tell you that over the past year, we have made several advances in designing the device to remain in the stomach for a long period of time in a controlled manner. We are going through the process that every medical device goes through to get approved – that involves a variety of studies – but right now we are focused on getting the best device possible with the highest likelihood of success.
Medgadget: With the reported success of bariatric surgery in weight loss intervention, where do you see your product as fitting into the spectrum of weight loss treatment?
Gaur: We’re hoping to open a market for obesity in a patient population that has traditionally only been able to resort to diet and exercise. Surgical and endoscopic interventions are meant for patients who have already put on a tremendous amount of weight. We’re hoping that because our device is noninvasive and would have a tolerable safety profile, we could target a population of patients that are only overweight or “pre-obese,” with the surgical or endoscopic options being available to those who remain obese or are morbidly obese. We see our project as a device that you can take to lose the first 15-20 pounds and, in combination with a structured weight loss program, could keep that weight off.
Medgadget: What advice do you have for young health professionals who have a marketable medical innovation?
Gaur: The most important advice that I can give is that anytime you encounter failure, it is an opportunity for innovation. Every startup will encounter failure at some point. It’s really about surrounding yourself with the right team, consultants, and allies to help you through the failures. At the end of the tunnel, when you’ve solved those failures, you have actually created an innovation.
My other advice is to make sure you have identified a clear unmet medical need from the outset. So many interesting devices come from “cool” technologies that then backtrack to find the unmet need. You are much more likely to succeed if you identify the unmet need first and then innovate around the need.
Recent Allurion news: Medical device for obesity startup nabs $1.6M…