Obesity is a substantial contributing factor to a range of diseases that represent the major causes of death and disability in the developed world today. Individuals that are clinically obese have elevated rates of cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, and certain types of cancer. The percentage of individuals who are defined as clinically obese has risen dramatically over the past several decades. According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, the incidence of obesity in the United States has increased at an epidemic rate during the past 20 years. A recent analysis conducted by the CDC (see here) now estimates that 35.7% of adults in the United States are clinically obese, and almost 17% of children. Approximately two-thirds of the population is considered either overweight or obese, and by 2030, it is projected that 42% of the population will be clinically obese. Rates of diabetes have grown significantly as a result. There has been a similar dramatic rise in the rate of obesity in Europe and Asia. Furthermore, the cost of this epidemic is significant. According to the CDC, in 2008 medical costs associated with obesity were estimated at $147 billion. Despite the magnitude of this problem, current approaches to clinical obesity are largely ineffective, and there are relatively few new therapeutic approaches in clinical development.
We are developing compounds designed to treat obesity that act by stimulating a key receptor in the brain that regulates appetite and food intake – the 5HT2c receptor. The role of this receptor in regulating food intake is well understood, and has been extensively studied in both animal models and humans. A critically important aspect is ensuring that compounds are both potent and selective, in order to deliver the desired efficacy and ensure patient safety.
Athersys is developing safer and more effective therapies to combat obesity, which is a major driver in healthcare costs in the U.S.