Salix Pharmaceuticals, a New Jersey-based drug development company that focuses on gastrointestinal conditions, wants to get the bottom of what causes irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). To study the common condition– which affects some 25 to 45 million Americans – Salix has developed an interactive, virtual reality platform designed to give clinicians a gut feeling for what could be causing IBS.
The platform is intended to guide clinicians through an open-minded approach to treatment, which can be difficult to pin down due to the mysterious etiology of IBS. In fact, IBS is classified as a “functional” condition, which means the symptoms happen even though there aren’t structural or metabolic changes in the body that would cause them, and there isn’t a definitive understanding of what causes IBS, which presents itself in the form of abdominal pain, cramping, diarrhea, constipation and sensitivity to foods.
In an educational voyage up close and personal with the GI tract, Salix will guide healthcare providers through the numerous theories floating around on the potential causes of IBS, including changes in the gut-brain axis, an imbalance in the gut microbiome, hypersensitivity to pain signals in the intestinal wall, or a chronic imbalance set off by a temporary gastrointestinal bug.
"We hope this educational program helps connect the dots between the multiple theories of what causes IBS in a uniquely memorable way for physicians," Salix Chief Medical Officer Dr. Tage Ramakrishna said in a statement. "The ultimate goal is to eliminate any barriers to patient care for the undiagnosed and untreated patient population."
One of the main barriers to adequate treatment of the ill-defined condition is an absence of diagnosis. A recent report in the American Journal of Gastroenterology showed that 43 percent of people surveyed had no actual medical diagnosis of IBS despite meeting the diagnostic criteria.
“As a gastroenterologist who treats conditions like IBS on a daily basis, I believe this virtual reality experience will move GI treatment forward by helping healthcare professionals better understand this complex condition," Dr. Brooks Cash, one of Salix's gastroenterology advisors, chief of gastroenterology and director of the Gastroenterology Physiology Lab at the University of South Alabama Digestive Health Center, said in a statement.
The VR program is Salix’s latest of several initiatives to increase awareness of IBS, and the company also ramped up its salesforce by almost 40 percent in effort to create and sustain relationships with primary care physicians who treat patients with IBS.