Bringing "Digital" Pills to the Mainstream

Medication noncompliance costs the healthcare system hundreds of billions of dollars, but an ingestible pill sensor may be on its way to mainstream use.

This article published with permission from iMedicalApps.com.

By some estimates, medication noncompliance contributes to over 100,000 deaths per year in the United States alone and costs the healthcare system hundreds of billions of dollars, according to a study in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Proteus Digital Health, a startup whose signature product is an ingestible pill sensor that can help track medication compliance, announced it has raised nearly $200 million dollars in its latest funding round.

Investors, including Medtronic and Novartis, are making big bets that the technology pioneered by Proteus Digital Health will help increase medication adherence—and, perhaps, capture some of that value along the way.

Proteus’ ingestible sensor—or event marker, as described in studies of the device—is comprised of a microcircuit embedded within layers of minerals and metals all coated with cellulose. When the pill enters the stomach, the acidic fluids power an embedded biogalvanic battery that creates an electrical field that can transmit a unique identifier through the body tissue to a wearable patch.

Today, the ingestible sensor is integrated inside inactive pills taken alongside medication. Photo from Proteus

The patch, which also collects biometric data like heart rate and movement information, uses Bluetooth to transmit the time-stamped signal and unique identifier to a smartphone or tablet with the company’s HIPAA-compliant app installed. [For more details, check out the recent paper in Transplantation describing use of the system in renal transplant patients.]

Currently, use of the ingestible sensor remains a little tricky. Either the patient has to basically take a second pill every time they take the pill of interest or a specialty pharmacy has to combine its actual medication with the sensor into some type of capsule. Frankly doubling the number or size of pills does not seem like the best thing to do when you’re worried about medication compliance; that being said, the long-term plan is to embed this technology into medications from the start, according to Proteus.

There are several advantages here over simply using apps that track medication compliance or even electronic pill boxes. First, apps and electronic pill boxes can be manipulated—I’ve heard of patients simply opening and closing the pill box to avoid the “take your medicine” call. Secondly, those methods ask even more of a patient who is already having trouble remembering to do what providers asked. By using an ingestible sensor and patch, medication adherence tracking becomes less onerous and more objective.

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