November 9, 2010

Microchip Pill Technology Could Hit Shelves in 18 Months

Novartis AG is trying to receive regulatory approval within 18 months for a tablet that contains an embedded microchip.

The program will use the Swiss firm's established drugs taken by transplant patients to avoid organ rejection.  However, Trevor Mundel, head of global development, believes the concept can be applied to many other pills.

"We are taking forward this transplant drug with a chip and we hope within the next 18 months to have something that we will be able to submit to the regulators, at least in Europe," Mundel told attendees of the Reuters Health Summit in New York.

"I see the promise as going much beyond that," he added.

Novartis agreed to give Proteus Biomedical of Redwood City, California $24 million to secure access to the chip-in-a-pill technology the privately owned company has developed.

The microchips are activated by stomach acid and send information to a small patch worn on the patient's skin, which can transmit data to a smartphone or send it over the Internet to a doctor.

Mundel said the initial project focused on ensuring that patients took drugs at the right time and got the dose needed. 

He hopes the "smart pill" concept will expand to other types of medicine. 

Novartis does not expect to have to conduct full-scale clinical trials to prove the new products work because the tiny chips are added to existing drugs.  It hopes to do so-called bioequivalence tests to show they are the same as the original.

Another issue that Novartis may face is securing patient information that is collected and transmitted from inside their bodies through wireless and Bluetooth devices.

"The regulators all like the concept and have been very encouraging. But ... they want to understand how we are going to solve the data privacy issues," Mundel said.

A technology that ensures a patient takes their required medicine could deliver better outcomes and justify a higher price tag.


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