New Salix virtual reality film gives doctors an 'insider' tour of the human GI tract

Valeant GI division Salix debuted its first VR tool at Digestive Disease Week to an audience of gastroenterologists. (Source: Salix)

Ready for a 3D tour of the human gastrointestinal tract? Valeant's Salix Pharmaceuticals has a new virtual reality tool that aims to offer doctors who diagnose irritable bowel syndrome not only a new perspective, but also an educational experience.

The virtual reality film is viewed through a VR headset as a 3D tour through the human digestive system. Along the way, the possible causes of IBS—such as food intolerance, history of gastrointestinal infections, and altered microbiomes—are discussed.

“The term IBS, or irritable bowel syndrome, is meant to convey a similarity of symptoms that are syndromic—it’s abdominal pain associated with changes in bowel habits, form and frequency. But there are a multitude of different causes," Dr. Brooks Cash, a Salix gastroenterology advisor, said in an interview. "This learning tool is designed to educate clinicians in regards to varying pathophysiologies that are at the heart of IBS."

The idea for the tool came out of a Salix advisor meeting, where during a break, someone showed an iPhone clip featuring a 3D roller coaster ride. The Salix team took the idea and ran with it to come up with the idea of an experiential tour of the human gut, said Cash, who, along with other advisors, worked to make the tour accurate and educational.

While the VR tool debuted at Digestive Disease Week this weekend to an audience of gastroenterologists, Cash said the tool is expected to particularly help primary care physicians in diagnosing IBS, with its exploration of the variety of causes around the sometimes difficult-to-diagnose condition. Salix sales reps will now begin to take the VR film on office visits.

Primary care doctors are second only to gastroenterologists in discovery of the condition. Salix-funded research—a survey that will be published in next month’s issue of The American Journal of Gastroenterology—found that 45% of IBS patients were diagnosed by a gastroenterologist, while 42% were diagnosed by a primary care physician.

Related: Valeant looks to revive Xifaxan with primary care sales effort. Will it work?

Since late last year, when Valeant's $10 billion-plus talks to sell Salix to Japan's Takeda reportedly fell through, the Canadian drugmaker has been focusing on reaching primary care physicians as part of its growth strategy. In late February, it scaled up its Salix force by nearly 40% in order to reach PCPs, which it called "key potential prescribers."

“With approximately 70% of IBS-D patients initially presenting with symptoms to a primary care physician, the dedicated PCP sales force will be positioned to reach even more patients in need of IBS-D treatment,” Valeant said at the time.

Still, key Salix meds—including IBS-D treatment Xifaxan—have struggled; Xifaxan turned in $185 million in first-quarter sales, significantly below Wells Fargo's estimate of $250 million.