Live Fitter, Look Better
This article was originally published in Start Up
Aging Baby Boomers with the desire and financial means to do so are taking health care to the next level, seeking fixes for bodily conditions that aren't life-threatening but which do affect comfort and self esteem. Lately device makers have begun heading for the sorts of lifestyle markets pioneered by drugmakers. Given the choice, some investors believe consumers will prefer device solutions over daily pill-popping that reminds them they've got health problems. Some firms are adopting established technologies to new purposes, while others are identifying perceived market needs first, then seeking out technology that can do the job. Opportunities range from aesthetic procedures to treatments for obesity and depression. Lifestyle start-ups face strategic issues that are anything but traditional: How and when to reach out to potential patients and prepare physicians to answer their questions? How to justify reimbursement or convince consumers to pay out of pocket? New challenges are sparking new marketing tactics, such as showing physicians in the distribution channel how to distinguish themselves with new devices.
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Over the last 20 years, obesity has become a disease of epidemic proportions, and the prevalence of this complex disease continues to rise. Amid this epidemic, opportunities abound for companies with surgical and nonsurgical solutions, making this market one of the hottest new growth areas for medical technology companies. At this year's meeting of the American Society of Bariatric Surgery (ASBS), manufacturers showcased some of the latest surgical solutions for treating obesity and the morbidly obese.
Raising money in medical devices is rarely easy; in fact, just getting past the front door can sometimes be a challenge. But not for ultrasound company, LipoSonix. The reason: LipoSonix is working on an energy-based alternative to liposuction, whose concept is easy to understand and its appeal immediate to both physicians and patients. Replacing what is now an often messy, painful procedure, LipoSonix offers a quick, painless procedure that allows patients to get up, walk out of the physician's office, and head back to work. LipoSonix still has challenges ahead of it. Having spent much of its time thus far on safety and mechanism of action issues, the company must now prove not only that the technology can achieve the kind of body-sculpting effect it hopes for, but that the effect is long-lasting. Moreover, adoption issues loom large. LipoSonix will have to convince both physicians and patients that their alternative justifies abandoning what is now a widely-accepted procedure. But if they can, LipoSonix' promise could be huge: a better approach to cosmetic surgery in a world where you can never be too rich or too thin.
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.