St. Paul, Minnesota-based EnteroMedics markets the vBloc System, which targets feelings of hunger to treat obesity. Implanted in the abdomen via a laparoscopic procedure, the Maestro device delivers electrical pulses to the vagus nerve through a pair of leads. The stimulation blocks vagal nerve signals to control feelings of hunger and discourage overeating.
The FDA approved the vBloc System in 2015 for patients who have previously tried to lose weight through diet and exercise and have a BMI of 40 to 45, or a BMI between 35 and 39.9 along with a related condition, such as diabetes.
The Maestro neuromodulator is the only FDA-approved device that uses electrical signals to treat obesity. In addition to pharmaceuticals, obesity may be treated with gastric bands and gastric balloon systems, both of which restrict the amount of food the stomach can hold and help patients eat less.
GlaxoSmithKline has been working on bioelectronics since 2012 and set up Galvani with Verily in 2016. Bioelectronics is based on using implants, such as the Maestro device, to stimulate the body’s own impulses to heal itself. The hope is that devices would cause biochemical changes in the body that are typically brought about by drugs.
In February, GE Ventures partnered with Northwell Health’s Feinstein Institute to support the latter’s Center for Bioelectronic Medicine. Northwell, which has already invested $75 million into bioelectronics research, is looking to treat cancer, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and other diseases with bioelectronics.