Dr Shantanu Gaur is behind the world’s first weight-loss concept, requiring no surgery, endoscopy or anaesthesia, which is proving hugely popular in the Middle East
Ask anyone in the business world and the thought of losing a million pounds is enough to start the heart racing – losing five million in the next two years could cause a complete cardiac arrest. And yet that is the target of Dr Shantanu Gaur, founder and CEO of Allurion.
When he revealed his aspirations are around global weight loss and not financial ruin, you can breathe more easily, although when he details the particular health concerns impacting the Middle East – outside of the global coronavirus pandemic – those heart palpitations could very easily return.
Dr Gaur told Arabian Business: “The GCC has just been, unfortunately, ravaged by obesity and diabetes. Two thirds of the population is either overweight or obese. In some countries, over 80 percent is overweight or obese.
“When you look at the scope of the epidemic, it’s impacting adults, it’s impacting children, it is impacting other aspects of the healthcare system – diabetes rates are through the roof in the GCC, cardiovascular mortality is higher in certain countries per capita because some of the risks of overweight and obesity.
“And when you compound that with the lifestyle in the Middle East, which can be very sedentary, especially in the hotter months when it’s difficult to be outside and active, and the wide availability of calorie-rich foods, it is just a boiling pot of obesity and overweight.”
In 2019, the International Diabetes Federation reported that one in six adults in the UAE has diabetes. Furthermore, that same year, Zayed Military Hospital’s study conducted in the UAE and led by Professor Humaidan Al Zaabi, found that 4.7 percent of the patients were said to be suffering from the disease and that 41 percent of the patients displayed signs of impaired fasting blood glucose, an indicator of pre-diabetes.
Gaur is behind the world’s first weight-loss concept, founded ten years ago while he was studying at Harvard Medical School, which requires no surgery, endoscopy or anaesthesia.
At the heart of the programme is a medical device called the elipse balloon. “It is really the workhorse of our weight-loss programme,” said Dr Gaur. You swallow the balloon in a capsule, in a 15-minute office visit. The capsule goes down into the stomach, it gets filled through a tube – like a cooked piece of spaghetti – with half-a-litre of liquid.
“And that’s it, you’re done,” continued Dr Gaur. “You have half-a-litre sized balloon inside your stomach and immediately you feel full and it suppresses your hunger, it suppresses your appetite and you’re free to go home, back to work or what have you. With this balloon inside your stomach for four months, you eat less, you feel full faster and you lose weight and you’re able to adapt your lifestyle to lower calorie intake.”
At the end of four months, the balloon has a very special valve in it that opens on its own, completely autonomous, and once that valve opens the balloon empties out and it passes out of the body.
“You literally do not need to come back to the doctor to have any other procedures,” said Dr Gaur, who stressed it was “a lot safer” than various weight-loss surgical procedures and, at between $3,000 to $4,000, a lot less expensive – he pointed out that anything related to endoscopy or anaesthesia can cost in the range of $8,000 to $10,000.
The process is supported by a digital platform and a mobile app, which charts progress and offers opportunities for doctors or nutritionists to intervene, if necessary, to provide advice or assistance during the four-month period and beyond.
“In four months our patients lose 15 kilos of weight on average. After one year, 85 percent of that weight loss is sustained,” said Dr Gaur, who has raised over $80 million – overseeing Allurion’s fundraising, research and development, clinical programs, and commercial operations since the company’s inception in 2009.
Allurion’s Elipse Program recorded 93 percent of its female and 52 percent of the male users in the UAE had a starting BMI between 30 and 33.9. Unsurprisingly, given the aforementioned statistics and concerns, it is proving popular in the Middle East since its launch in the region in 2016.
Dr Gaur said: “What we have found is something remarkable. The demand for our product has been unprecedented in the Middle East. We saw, over the past year, a definitive increase after Covid hit because as you may be aware, here in the United States, but also in the Middle East, the links between obesity and Covid have now been very well established.
“Obesity leads to worse outcomes from Covid-19, it increases your risk of mortality and that has made obesity, which is a chronic disease, a chronic illness, it has made it acutely important. It has made it an urgency in the minds of patients and providers.
“In the second half of 2020 we grew our business by over 150 percent compared to the same period in 2019 and a lot of that growth did come from the Middle East.”
He added that, of the 40,000 patients treated over the past four year “close to half have probably been in the Middle East”.
He said: “We are growing very quickly outside of the Middle East in places like Europe, North America, Latin America and Asia, but the established market in the Middle East is something that we have taken advantage of in our launch over the past four years and we have grown the size of the market, given that our product is truly procedure-less and appeals to a wider number of consumers.
“We estimate that we’ve shed over a million pounds around the globe through the end of last year. We are going to be launching soon an initiative to shed five million pounds of weight around the globe over the next two years.”