Obesity field gets boost with $6.2M round for Gelesis

This is a bit of good news for the beleaguered obesity treatment field. Boston-based biotech Gelesis has increased its latest round of financing to $6.2 million and won a $1.3 million grant from the Puglia region in Italy, from where its potential obesity treatment hails, the firm's lead investor tells FierceBiotech.

Founding backer PureTech Ventures led the latest round, which also included some prominent and undisclosed private investors, to fund further development of Gelesis' potential obesity treatment, Daphne Zohar (photo), founder and managing partner of PureTech, says. We reported the first $3.6 million of the round last month. With its grants and total funding from investors, the startup has now brought in about $23.5 million.

Gelesis, a Fierce 15 company in 2010, is pursuing a device regulatory path for its treatment, hoping to avoid some of the hurdles that obesity drug developers have encountered dealing with the FDA. The latest victim was Orexigen ($OREX), which last week said it is putting its U.S. development of anti-obesity treatment Contrave on hold after regulators and company executives couldn't see eye-to-eye on how to assess the treatment's potential cardiovascular risks.

In Gelesis's view, the firm's Attiva treatment acts mechanically in the body as opposed to drugs dogged with safety concerns that interact with CNS pathways to prevent hunger. Attiva capsules release polymer particles made of food materials that expand in liquids, intending to make peoples' stomachs more full. Zohar says that the company aims to report weight-loss data from human studies in the next year, building on early human studies that previously showed the treatment was safe and helped people feel full.

Zohar said in an email that her group was encouraged that CDRH, the device regulatory arm of the FDA, has given approval to numerous obesity treatments that are "surgical" in nature. "Gelesis's product acts mechanically like surgery but is completely non-invasive and very safe," she added.

Given the FDA's rigid stance on therapeutic interventions for obesity these days, the device path seems to be the best one for Gelesis. For the startup's sake, let's hope the regulators agree.

Special Report: Readers' Choice: Gelesis - 2010 Fierce 15