On the market for products presented as revolutionary for weight loss, there is a new arrival…the Allurion gastric balloon: a medical device which has already attracted 10,000 French people… thanks to a well-established commercial strategy in which the eye of the 20H.
“Long-term fight against excess weight”, here is the promise of the Allurion gastric balloon: a capsule to swallow, which inflates once in the stomach, without surgery or anesthesia, and is eliminated naturally after a few months. In the brand’s advertisements, patients say they are won over: “I’m already at -18.5 kg, I think I can say that I reached my goal“, rejoices a patient.
The speech seduced Anne, 48 years old… who then became disillusioned. This summer, she had an Allurion balloon inserted, under the supervision of a surgeon. She spends 3,600 euros, not reimbursed by social security. But after 3 weeks of continuous pain, she decided to have it removed urgently: “I don’t know if they were burns but I doubled over in pain, she explains. I contacted the surgeon twice, then I spoke to the dietician: no one understood that I could have this severe pain, it was not possible. In three weeks, I have an appointment with a gastroenterologist to follow up on the extent of what the balloon may have done. Yes, I was scared, and I’m still scared.”
She’s not the only one. By telephone, other patients report adverse effects to us:
“I lost ten kilos, but I’ll tell you why: I didn’t actually eat anything! I had bad stomach cramps and constant nausea”, annoys a patient who has tried the Allurion balloon. “We are weak. Going out in front of the house, walking twenty meters, I had the impression of doing the Paris marathon, almost collapsing“, describes another user.
To sell its balloons, Allurion, which has just been listed on the stock exchange, has formed partnerships with surgeons in around fifty private clinics, but also with aesthetic centers like the one we visit with a hidden camera.
A well-honed sales pitch
The manager, who is not a doctor, offers us different formulas, as if we were selling an ordinary slimming cure. She first warns us: “I do not direct you towards a 6-month program at all because you will not lose a lot of weight and because you risk gaining weight again”. Then she continues: “Eventually if we go on a 12-month program, what I can promise you is 17-18 kg. If we go on an 18-month program, you should know that there will be two balloon poses, we can lose 25 kg or even a little more.”
Sales arguments also made by surgeons. We have an appointment with a practitioner from a private clinic. The consultation is done by video…and the medical explanations quickly give way to commercial speech: “Setting up is simple, easy, quick, it takes a quarter of an hour, you leave straight away, he reassures before continuing: If you know someone who is interested in doing it at the same time as you, there is currently a reduction of 250 euros for everyone.
A practice prohibited by the public health code, as confirmed to us by the order of doctors. Is prohibited “any rebate in money or in kind, directly or indirectly (…), for a prescription or any medical procedure”.
However, doctors are the linchpin of Allurion’s growth. Under condition of anonymity, a former sales representative of the company tells us behind the scenes of their recruitment: “It’s complicated to convince surgeons because they want to open people up. The role of the salespeople was to convince them that in just 20 minutes, they will earn as much money as for a surgery lasting several hours.”
Allurion defends its product
Allurion assumes this commercial strategy and points out that the balloon has been validated by the health authorities. We wanted to show the director the testimonies of dissatisfied patients. For him, these cases would be isolated: “There we are in the side effect. That is to say that it is not classic, for a normal patient we will have this type of nausea, vomiting, pain just the first 2 or 3 days following the placement of the balloonassures Benoît Chardon, international director of Allurion. If it lasts 2 or 3 weeks, it is essential to go see the clinic, do another x-ray to see if the balloon is well positioned in the stomach“.
Allurion wants to reassure, but in Marseille, a lawyer specializing in collective actions in the field of health is starting to receive files from patients who say they are victims of serious dysfunctions following the installation of an Allurion balloon: “This type of case raises the question of the marketing authorizations given by our authorities and the confidence that we can have in these authorizations and the monitoring carried out on these devices.“, tells us Master Géraldine Adrai-Lachkar.
To date, the national medicines safety agency (ANSM) has received around ten reports of incidents on the 10,000 gastric balloons that the company Allurion has already marketed in France.
Among our sources:
Public health code: