The weight-loss market is, pun perhaps intended, huge.
Recent years have seen the advancement of dieting drugs, but many of these include painful injections and a whole slew of side effects.
An Israeli startup, meanwhile, enables people interested in losing a moderate amount of weight to take a pill that leaves them feeling full without drugs.
“The idea was to develop a product that can be swallowed through the mouth and which opens up in the stomach to apply pressure on the stomach wall and so produce a feeling of satiety,” Epitomee CEO Dr. Dan Hashimshony tells ISRAEL21c.
“That’s something that’s easy to say, but making it happen is very challenging.”
The idea was floated in a group led by inventor and entrepreneur Shimon Eckhouse, whom Hashimshony joined some seven years ago. They focused on numerous technologies until they decided on one that allows the pill to swell up in the stomach and disintegrate in the digestive system.
“It took us a few years, and we took the idea forward and focused on one technology. We understood that while it’s important to develop a product that can inflate in the stomach, it also has to separate from the body perfectly and immediately,” Hashimshony explains.
“Here we had to tackle the challenge of developing a large device – each of its sides is over 2 inches long – that can stay put for a while but that disintegrates into tiny particles within minutes upon reaching the intestines.”
Absorb, inflate, disintegrate
The winning solution was to use a number of polymers with opposing characteristics, he says.
Polymers inside the pill absorb water and other liquids from the stomach, then separate and open up to the extent that each grain inflates 100 times its original size.
“All these polymer grains are placed inside a casing. On the one hand, this casing enables water to enter it, but on the other it holds the expanding polymers in a certain way,” says Hashimshony.
This combination of a relatively hard casing and an internal substance that expands creates a predetermined shape, in this case a kind of triangle.
“When it opens up in the stomach, most of the device is actually water. When it reaches its full shape, it’s 97 percent water. We use only 3% material to create something very dramatic in the stomach,” he notes.
“Based on the PH levels of the intestines, the external polymer disintegrates within a few moments, and the internal material flows through the digestive system and leaves it naturally. This whole combination is what enables our product.”
Heading to market
Epitomee’s mechanical weight-loss device has been swallowed more than 100,000 times in clinical trials. It has European and Israeli regulation approval and the company is planning to submit for FDA approval in coming months.
At first, the product will need to be prescribed, but the company envisions an eventual over-the-counter solution for anyone wanting to lose from around 10 to 30 pounds.
Until 2020, the Caesarea-based company was funded by venture capital funds and private investors. In 2020, it received $17 million from Nestle Health Science, which has become its distribution partner. In 2021, it raised $50 million on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange.
“What’s unique is that our technology is the only one that can do all these mechanical actions in the digestive system and also be ingested by mouth. These actions, such as pulling, pushing, carrying and unloading cargo – they could all have very substantial clinical significance,” Hashimshony notes.
“In fact, there’s no other product in the world that produces such an object and such action by swallowing one pill,” he says.
Weight loss is only the first application of Epitomee’s unusual technological platform for mechanical actions within the gut.
The little pill could, for example, “carry a load and then unload it in any part of the digestive system, according to our specifications. The weight-loss product only uses part of these characteristics,” says Hashimshony.
Epitomee has a production line in Caesarea and another soon to open in Sderot.
“We’re getting our production lines up and ready and getting ready for the market pending our regulatory approvals, and then we’re going to produce and sell as much as possible. Aside from that, we have a very developed R&D department that’s working on using this same platform for other uses, for example inserting drugs into the large intestine.”
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