‘Smart Pills’ Have Arrived – What Are They and How Do They Help Treat Mental Health Disorders?
Adoption of this technology is slow, for now, because it is really, really expensive
January 29, 2020
It’s 2020, so you probably have a smart phone in your hand. In fact, you may be reading this article on one right now. And soon, you may be swallowing digital technology to read your health, too.
Nicknamed “smart pills,” pharmaceutical companies have been busy developing drugs equipped with a digital ingestion tracking system, sending a message from the pill’s sensor to a wearable patch, which then transmits the information to a mobile application so patients and their doctors can track the ingestion of the medication on their smart phone.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first wave of smart pills in late 2017, greenlighting the sale of Abilify MyCite for the treatment of schizophrenia, acute treatment of manic and mixed episodes associated with bipolar I disorder, and for use as an add-on treatment for depression in adults. Adoption of this medical technology, however, has been slow — mainly because a months supply costs $1,650, nearly 30 times as much as a 30-day supply of generic Abilify.
Initially, Proteus Digital Health partnered with Otsuka Pharmaceutical to build and commercialize a portfolio of digital health medicines for mental health. However, earlier this month, the companies announced they were prematurely ending their deal, with Proteus pivoting to focus on what a spokesperson described as “other therapeutic areas including infectious disease and oncology.” Meanwhile, Japan-based Otsuka will continue exploring applications for mental health.
And now they both have more competition. Just last month, the FDA approved Florida-based startup etectRx for its sensor technology. The main difference between this and what Proteus introduced to the market is how the sensory information is retrieved. Instead of a patch, patients wear a lanyard-based reader while they’re taking their medicine.
At the moment, these smart pills are seen primarily as tools for caregivers to make sure a psychiatric patient has taken their medicine, as a 2005 study in the New England Journal of Medicine found patients skip it up to 50 percent of the time. There is also a profit incentive for pharmaceutical companies, too, as these smart pills may ensure that patients refill prescriptions more often.
“We’re confident that the technology has many applications and we’ll start now to capitalize on those now that we’re cleared,” etectRx CEO Harry Travis said last month.
Upon the FDA’s initial approval of this technology in 2017, Mitchell Mathis, M.D., director of the Division of Psychiatry Products in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said in a statement, “Being able to track ingestion of medications prescribed for mental illness may be useful for some patients. The FDA supports the development and use of new technology in prescription drugs and is committed to working with companies to understand how technology might benefit patients and prescribers.”
About the Writer:
Greg Gilman spent nearly a decade as an entertainment news reporter and editor for publications including Perez Hilton, TheWrap and TMZ’s TooFab. He left that life behind at the start of 2019, and spent the year detoxing his mind from the pop culture poison that had accumulated over the last decade. Now, he’s focused on writing pieces that are beneficial for the world around him, in between gigs as the frontman of LA rock band, Greg in Good Company. He has suffered from depression and anxiety, and is still trying to conquer an addiction to screens and social media, but has found studying Eastern spiritual philosophies to be tremendously helpful in his quest for peace of mind.
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