The Diabesity BHAG: Innovations and Multifactorial Solutions

Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute's Paul Laikind, Ph.D. (left) spoke at the Xconomy event. He is joined by SBMRI's Josh Baxt.

Developing solutions to the epidemics of obesity and diabetes are Big Hairy Audacious Goals, to borrow the very descriptive term Paul Laikind of Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute used at the Xconomy event “San Diego’s Fight Against Diabesity.” The life sciences entrepreneurs, researchers, investors and physicians who participated in the lively and thought-provoking discussion are passionate about tackling these diseases and have their sights set on the BHAG.

We heard about some medicines making their way through tumultuous regulatory review processes (Amylin’s Bydureon for T2 diabetes, and for obesity, Arena’s lorcaserin and Orexigen’s Contrave that received a complete response from FDA — ugh) as well as companies coming at diabetes with novel drug targets. I thought one VC was going to hand Chip Scarlett of Vega Therapeutics a term sheet right then and there! That certainly would have off-set the investor panel’s lack of enthusiasm for high-risk diabetes ventures. The “diabesity” area offers tremendous opportunities for innovation, so it was great to hear about new approaches intended to improve the alarmingly poor compliance rates of patients with diabetes: Amylin’s once-weekly formulation of exenatide; Calibra Medical’s Finesse insulin patch; and Intarcia’s use of the tiny subcutaneous pump originated at ALZA.

The issue of compliance reveals a factor that is critical to successfully addressing these disease epidemics: human behavior. When only 30% of T2 diabetes patients are compliant with their drug regimens, we have to understand what motivates patients to improve their health. We can develop long-acting drug formulations and matchstick-size drug pumps that only need to be changed once per year – these cleverly work around the patients’ psyche. But I think we also need to apply our ingenuity to develop innovative software, healthcare information technologies, wireless devices and educational technologies or programs that affect positive behavioral change and ultimately motivate us to take action to improve our personal and collective well-being.

At the Xconomy event, Bob More of Frazier Healthcare opined that diabetes and obesity will require multifactorial solutions. A lot of money and energy is hard at work developing pharmacological approaches to these diseases. I’m eager to hear about innovations that positively influence our behaviors, including changing society’s attitudes about exercise with initiatives like HHS’ Let’s Move! Campaign as well as at the individual level. (Don’t get me started about the powerful communications I’d love to sink my teeth into!) The latter – changing ingrained beliefs held by the masses – is TRULY a BHAG, but all hands must be on deck for us to turn the tide on “diabesity.”

Pam Lord is a senior vice president at Canale Communications and can be reached at pam@canalecomm.com.

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