Policy

Morning Read: VC dollars are chasing obesity

Highlights of the important and the interesting from the world of healthcare: VC dollars are chasing obesity: Startups focused on a variety of disorders brought on by obesity having been cashing in with venture capitalists lately, Reuters reports. With  the World Health Organization projecting that by 2015, 2.3 billion adults will be overweight and more than 700 […]

Highlights of the important and the interesting from the world of healthcare:

VC dollars are chasing obesity: Startups focused on a variety of disorders brought on by obesity having been cashing in with venture capitalists lately, Reuters reports. With  the World Health Organization projecting that by 2015, 2.3 billion adults will be overweight and more than 700 million will be obese, it doesn’t take a genius investor to see a huge market opportunity there. Expect China to become an increasingly important market for U.S. firms developing treatments for the variety of conditions known as metabolic disorder, which include high blood pressure and diabetes. China leads the world in number of residents suffering from diabetes with more than 92 million adults, double previous estimates, according to a recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine.

That’s a lot of potential customers for the companies that have grabbed money from VCs to ramp up obesity-related treatments. Companies to watch include:

  • Boston-based Rhythm Pharmaceuticals, which raised $21 million in a Series A round for treatments for metabolic diseases based on hormones that  introduce changes to a cell’s metabolism.
  • ValenTX, of Carpinteria, Calif., raised $22 million to develop an implantable medical device to treat morbid obesity.
  • GI Dynamics, based in Lexington, Mass., raised $15 million in late-stage funding in January for devices that treat obesity and diabetes and can be delivered into the gastrointestinal tract using minimally invasive techniques.

Meet your new chief of Medicare and Medicaid: It’s Dr. Donald M. Berwick, an “iconoclastic” Cambridge, Mass., scholar of health policy, and if he’s half of what this New York Times article makes him seem, then he’ll be a wonderful choice to lead the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Time calls the post “a big, big job” and thus predicts it’ll be a “big fight” to get Berwick’s confirmation through a partisan, bickering Senate. But back to Berwick. He “has repeatedly challenged doctors and hospitals to provide better care at a lower cost,” the Times reports. Perhaps the most glowing review comes from a health policy analyst at Consumers Union.

“This would be a spectacular appointment. Don has been an intellectual force in health care for decades. He helped forge many ideas incorporated in the new health care law.” As examples, [the analyst] cited provisions of the law intended to reduce readmissions to hospitals, prevent hospital-acquired infections and hold doctors and hospitals more accountable.

Notably, Berwick seems to believe that hospitals and other providers have become too bloated, and that they have room to cut overhead costs without compromising the quality of their operations. He issued the following challenge to the nation’s providers: “Over the next three years, reduce the total resource consumption of your health care system, no matter where you start, by 10 percent. Do that without a single instance of harm, without rationing effective care, without excluding needed services for any population you serve.”

How Kit Kats are like cocaine: Experiments in rats have proven what human behavior has shown, junk food affects the brain the same way addictive narcotics like cocaine do, according to a study in  the journal Nature Neuroscience. When rats ate foods like bacon and cheesecake in great enough quantities, it led to compulsive eating habits that resembled drug addiction, the authors wrote. Perhaps more disturbingly and certainly more humorously, the obese rats later went on two-week “hunger strikes” after their lard-laden treats were replaced with healthier fare.

Photo from flickr user colros