CEO: Yishai Zohar
The Scoop: Gelesis operated in stealth mode for a couple of years before jumping into the spotlight. But in the last year an influential group of experts has taken a close look at its approach to weight control, and they like what they've seen so far. The technology can follow several different paths to an approval, and a near-term rollout is possible.
What Makes it Fierce: When MIT's Bob Langer says that a biotech company is doing innovative work with a polymer-based technology, we at FierceBiotech sit up and listen. Langer has already helped set up a string of biotech companies, and polymers play a big role in some of his latest high-profile efforts.
"Gelesis is taking a completely novel approach to treating obesity which already has human proof of concept data and has the potential to be very safe," Langer wrote to FierceBiotech when nominating the company. "The company includes leading people in the obesity and polymer fields."
Langer wasn't alone in nominating Gelesis. John LaMattina, the former Pfizer SVP for global R&D and a member of the Gelesis board, joined an intriguing group of insiders suggesting we pick the biotech for this year's Fierce 15. LaMattina is a partner at PureTech Ventures, which has backed the start-up. And Langer is an adviser to the busy venture group.
The technology here rests on a simple premise. A superabsorbent hydrogel material, a food-based polymer dubbed Attiva, is placed inside a capsule and swallowed, swelling to 100 times its original size inside the stomach. It's not absorbed. It's excreted in the normal way, like any other food you swallow. And the sense of being full that comes from a fist-sized treatment helps you steer clear of big portions. No drugs, no surgery, no danger.
Anyone tracking the recent travails of the developers trying to advance new weight drugs knows how high FDA experts have placed the bar on safety. The Gelesis technology, which is illustrated in video clips contained on the biotech's website, emphasizes just how straightforward this technology is. And even if you get the odd sensation that you're watching an ad on late-night television, the science is anything but a huckster's dream.
In a trial of 95 people, subjects reported a sense of satiety after treatment, with a range of complaints from 16 percent of them on mild side effects like stomach aches and nausea.
Alessandro Sannino, an engineering professor at Italy's University of Sallento, has been working on this technology for more than 15 years. Advisers include Lee Kaplan of Massachusetts General Hospital Weight Center and James Hill, the past president of the Obesity Society and a University of Colorado professor.
Venture backers: Puretech Ventures seeded the company, with OrbiMed Advisors, Queensland BioCapital Funds joining in the Series A in 2008.