Smart Medicine – The Digital Pill

In 2014 it was reported that almost half of all adults in the UK take some form of prescription drugs. These “common” prescribed medicines often include:

  • Cholesterol lowering statins
  • High blood pressure medicines
  • Painkillers
  • Antidepressants

Within this vast quantity of drug use it has been reported that up to 50% of prescribed medicines are not taken as recommended, costing the NHS up to £200 million a year in hospital admissions. This is a staggering amount and an enormous financial burden on an already strained NHS.

To help combat this, a California-based company Proteus Digital Health have teamed up with the Japanese company Otsuka Pharmaceuticals to develop the world’s first ‘digital pill’. This revolutionary smart technology combines the use of a tiny ingestible sensor, which communicates to a wearable patch on the patient’s skin recording when the pill reaches the patient’s stomach. The development shows how technology is opening up innovation in both the medical and software industries. Approved for use in June 2015 this marks the first drug to be filed as new ‘digital medicine’.

Patch and pill

The initial market for this technology will be for those suffering from mental illness, where compliance to prescribed medicine is particularly poor. The ABILFY pill (Aripiprazole – used to treat mental conditions such as Bipolar Disorder and Schizophrenia) will be combined with the Proteus ingestible sensor. This is then paired with Proteus’ digital app that helps patient monitor and record their health and wellbeing.

The benefits of this new technology are astounding, not only helping patients and their carers monitor health but also helping extremely cash-strapped health systems save money. Beyond this the digital pill can be used to measure a range of physiological data such as patient activity levels; all leading to the realisation that we could one day monitor patient health in real-time.

Other applications for this technology could be within clinical trials. It can be difficult to ascertain whether people within clinical trials of new drugs have been taking them as recommended (as in real life), which is potentially harmful to studies findings. A digital sensor will allow clinicians to have greater control on studies findings.

The future for this type of digital healthcare is extremely exciting, however it is not without it’s hurdles. The FDA worked with Proteus for several years to develop regulatory frameworks for its products. With no previous technology like this to take data from regulators are having to develop their own new expertise in order to assess the safety of such revolutionary new concepts and drug abilities.

But as always this is just the tip of the iceberg. Chief Executive of Proteus, Andrew Thompson stated:

The real explosion of innovation is still years away. In 20 years we will make the same distinction between digital drugs and dumb drugs as we make between branded and generic drugs today


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