Swiss team's anti-obesity hormone implant poses Lap-Band challenge

Swiss researchers successfully used a hormone implant to help overweight mice lose weight, an advance that could eventually give gastric bands and other anti-obesity devices under development some innovative competition.

The Australian newspaper highlighted the work by scientists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich and elsewhere. Nature Communications published the detailed results.

According to the story, researchers started with an implant that contains gel capsules with hundreds of genetically engineered human cells designed to respond to fat circulating in the body. Those cells, once in contact with body fat, triggered greater activity in the PPAR-alpha gene. This, in turn, helped suppress appetite by sparking production of the hormone pramlintide. As a result, the obese mice lost weight over time.

Use of such a device in humans is years away and further animal studies are necessary even before that point. The researchers believe they could develop a similar implant for humans that would carry the capsules just under the skin. Such a device could even be customized to individual patients, carrying genetically engineered copies of a patient's own cells, the story noted, though the move could be costly.

The research team sees the technology as someday replacing gastric band surgery as an antiobesity option. Such a device, assuming it meets safety and efficacy goals, would face stiff competition, though a successful new anti-obesity device could gain serious traction.

Gastric banding is perhaps the biggest anti-obesity device option on the market, though the product's status is in flux. Allergan ($AGN) recently agreed to sell its Lap-Band adjustable gastric banding system and its remaining obesity intervention business to Apollo Endosurgery in a deal worth up to $110 million. The product's sales peaked in 2009 and researchers have subsequently questioned its effectiveness and safety, though Apollo has expressed confidence about carrying that business forward. 

Other competitors are ramping up. Among them: Minnesota's EnteroMedics ($ETRM) is trying to gain FDA approval for its Maestro nerve-stimulating implant designed to curb hunger, but the FDA keeps seeking more clinical information, delaying the approval process. GI Dynamics ($GID), meanwhile, is working hard to get its EndoBarrier device through the U.S. approval process. It is an endoscopically implanted tube designed to separate food from the intestinal wall.

- here's the study
- read The Australian's take (sub. req.)