VCs eager to invest in obesity-focused startups

The WHO projects about 2.3 billion adults will be overweight and more than 700 million will be obese by 2015. And with few obesity drug options on the market, venture capitalists are eager to invest in companies developing therapies for this difficult-to-treat condition.

One developer that recently rounded up funding is Rhythm Pharmaceuticals, which raised $21 million to support development of peptide therapeutics targeting obesity, metabolic diseases, and gastrointestinal disorders. "The obesity pipeline has been relatively thin," Rhythm CEO Bart Henderson tells Reuters. "Since obesity and diabetes together are such important health priorities, the clinical development pipeline is in dire need of new approaches." Reuters notes that, in addition to Rhythm, several other developers have recently raised substantial sums to support obesity drug work. These companies include GI Dynamics, Satiety, Elixir Pharmaceuticals and devicemaker ValenTX.

There are three closely-watched obesity drugs in development. Later this year, the FDA will review Arena Pharmaceuticals' lorcaserin, which has been shown to improve cardiovascular risk factors like cholesterol and triglycerides by triggering weight loss. Vivus has been studying Qnexa; in trials patients taking the drug experienced 10 percent and 11 percent weight loss. Finally, Orexigen Therapeutics has entered late-stage trials for its drug Empatic. Any approval would be mark the first new obesity drug to hit the market in 10 years.

- read the Reuters article for more