Weight loss has always been big business, but it’s exploded of late due to surging demand for Ozempic, Wegovy and other new diabetes and obesity drugs.
In the first half of 2023, sales of Ozempic and Wegovy rose by 58% and 363%, respectively. That’s after quarterly prescriptions for those types of GLP-1 treatments, which mimic a hormone in the gut to suppress a person’s appetite, increased 300% between early 2020 and the end of last year.
But as consumers and businesses pour more money and resources into tackling the obesity epidemic, which costs the U.S. more than $170 billion a year, drug developers aren’t alone in coming up with innovative solutions.
Signos, a five-year-old startup, is taking an approach that doesn’t involve pills.
The company is using off-the-shelf continuous glucose monitors, or CGMs, and providing real-time diet and exercise recommendations based on an individual’s readings. CGMs are small sensors worn on the upper arm that track glucose levels, primarily for people with diabetes. The information is wirelessly sent to a smartphone, allowing the user to better prevent emergencies.
Signos uses CGMs built by Dexcom. The startup has its own app that shows users how their body responds to specific foods, what causes their glucose to spike and when they should exercise to get the best results for weight loss.
On Tuesday, Signos said it closed a $20 million funding round led by Cheyenne Ventures and GV, formerly known as Google Ventures. Dexcom Ventures also contributed to the financing. Signos said it will use the fresh capital to continue its research into metabolic health and to expand its team, which is currently around 45 people.
“Whether you have five pounds to lose or 100, we want to make sure we’re able to help everybody,” Sharam Fouladgar-Mercer, Signos’ co-founder and CEO, told CNBC in an interview.
Customers who sign up for Signos can choose a one-month, three-month or six-month plan. With the half-year plan, users pay $143 a month, which includes all of the pricey CGMs they’ll need during that time. The company declined to share specific details about how many people are currently using its platform.
Fouladgar-Mercer said the long timelines are designed to attract users who are serious about their weight-loss journey. Additionally, the sensors themselves have a long wear time. The Dexcom G6 and G7, the latest devices, can measure glucose for up to 10 days. Signos currently supports the G6 and will soon work with the G7 as well.
Fouladgar-Mercer said Signos is using Dexcom’s CGMs as part of a clinical study approved by an institutional review board designated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to monitor biomedical research involving real people.
Fouladgar-Mercer said he created the company in 2018 partly because of his own struggle to manage weight throughout his life. He trained as an athlete and played hockey in college, but he said he noticed how food often affected him differently from the way it affected his teammates.
He said he always felt that, in an effort to understand an individual’s metabolism, there was a “critical component” missing, and it had been nagging at him for 30 years.
Signos helps users understand the right decision to make in the moment, but they can go “behind the scenes” and learn as much about the science as they’d like, Fouladgar-Mercer said. Users can also integrate sleep data, heart rate data, and exercise data from their Apple Watch to personalize their profile even more.
“Once they trust the system works and they understand the methodology, they can just follow the really quick, here’s what I do, here’s what I do, here’s what I do,” Fouladgar-Mercer said. “And that’s how you get behavioral change.”
Though Dexcom primarily develops its CGMs for patients with diabetes, the company is also working toward broader applications. For instance, next year it’s releasing a new product meant for people who aren’t taking insulin. Similarly, Abbott Laboratories, which dominates the global CGM market, is hoping to bring its first consumer-facing CGM, called Lingo, to the U.S. next year, adding personalized coaching with recommendations about diet, sleep and exercise.
Fouladgar-Mercer said Signos has more data points than “anybody does in the world for non-diabetics.” He added that since the company built its first product almost five years ago, it’s been able to focus on fine-tuning its technology.
“I don’t want to incorrectly set expectations,” Fouladgar-Mercer said. “I think a lot of times, it’s like, ‘Oh, lost X pounds in X days.’ That’s not what we’re trying to accomplish. It’s really, how do we put you on a sustainable journey? And that journey is not going to be done in two or three days.”
Fouladgar-Mercer said Signos can work well alongside Ozempic and Wegovy from Novo Nordisk and other GLP-1 treatments. Novo Nordisk’s share price has quadrupled since 2018, and the company is now the most valuable in Europe.
Fouladgar-Mercer said GLP-1 drugs are a “powerful tool” that can help people jump-start weight loss, but it can be challenging to keep weight off if they stop taking the medication. Platforms such as Signos can help to reinforce and maintain a healthier lifestyle over time, he said.
Ultimately, he said, he wants people to use Signos to learn how to make better choices that work best for their bodies.
Signos, Fouladgar-Mercer said, can use technology and data “to drive behavioral change, and then wrap that all in a system that really is focused on driving and solving this biggest problem we have in America, which is weight.”