April 17, 2019
When patients get prescribed pills to take, it’s not certain they will follow through and actually take the medication. For that reason, Angel Au-Yeung reports in Forbes, a handful of digital start-ups are trying to enable doctors to tell if the patient has taken their medication by embedding a tracking system into pills.
Proteus Digital Health, a Redwood City, California-based tech health startup, is one such company. Founded in 2004 by Andrew Thompson and Dr. George Savage, the company makes a 1 millimeter sensor—“the size of a poppy seed or grain of sand,” Thompson explained to Au-Yeung—that is embedded in medications, which are then swallowed.
The sensor, made of “elements found in a typical diet,” including magnesium and copper, says Thompson, will turn on when it contacts a patient’s stomach acid. It then sends a signal to a palm-size patch that patients wear on their skin. The patch, which also tracks physiological signs like steps, rest and heart rate, then sends information to a smartphone app for patients and to a desktop browser portal that doctors use.
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In 2017, the FDA approved an antipsychotic drug with Proteus technology, the agency’s first-ever approval for a medicine with digital ingestion tracking system. Abilify MyCite, the drug made with Tokyo-based Otsuka Pharmaceutical, treats schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression and Tourette syndrome.
The company has raised $420 million in venture capital funding from investors including Novartis Venture Fund and Kaiser Permanente Ventures at a $1.5 billion valuation. Otsuka, which has a special focus on mental health drugs, announced in October 2018 an $88 million investment in Proteus to continue developing other medications that use the tech-health venture’s ingestible sensors. More than 1,000 patients have used the pill-tracking system, amounting to 195,000 pill ingestions, says the company.
EtectRx, Keratin Biosciences
Other companies have sprung up in the drug delivery space, including etectRx, a Newberry, Fla., health-tech startup with a similar digital health system model. Instead of working with a pharmaceutical company to embed its sensors in a pill, etectRx creates an empty gelatin capsule with an embedded wireless sensor. Its capsule has not received FDA clearance yet, but it can be used in clinical studies that have been approved by the agency’s Institutional Review Board, a committee that reviews and monitors scientific research.
Keratin Biosciences (formerly Microchips Biotech and KeraNetics before the two merged in July 2018) wants to improve medication intake by getting rid of human error altogether. Instead of a pill, this Lexington, Massachusetts, company makes a microchip with hundreds of sealed compartments, each of which can store up to 1 milligram of a drug. The chip, which originated in a lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, can be activated by a wireless signal that triggers the compartments to release the drug, based on a pre-programmed dosing schedule.
Digital health startups must figure out how to get the new drug delivery methods they are delivering to patients and consumers in a scalable way, which will require collaboration and a commitment from Big Pharma. “The core thing we want the pharmaceutical industry to understand is that we want to integrate silicon software into the definition of their products in order to make information and data a part of what they do,” Thompson says.