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Smart pill technology on Novartis radar

Embedded ingestible microchips that alert doctors when medication has been taken are being developed for use in transplant, cancer and cardiovascular drugs.

By Pamela Lewis Dolan — Posted Nov. 23, 2010

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The Swiss drug company Novartis is planning to seek approval for smart pill technology within 18 months for one of its medications for transplant recipients.

Trevor Mundel, global head of development for Novartis, told attendees at November's Reuters Health Summit in New York that the company plans to seek regulatory approval for its smart pill technology within a year and a half, at least in Europe. It's unclear when the company plans to seek similar approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The company announced in January that it was investing $25 million in Proteus Biomedical of Redwood City, Calif., for rights to the microchip-in-a-pill technology that Proteus developed. The agreement would allow Novartis to apply the technology to its organ transplant drug business, and eventually to its cancer and cardiovascular businesses.

Smart pills have embedded ingestible chips that are activated by stomach acids. Once activated, they send messages to a monitor located on the patient's body that can send e-mails or text messages to doctors or caregivers alerting them that the medication has been taken. Researchers hope the technology will improve medication adherence.

Various studies have found that when patients don't follow a prescription order as written, costs can mount to $100 billion a year for avoidable hospitalizations and more than 200,000 deaths annually.

Proteus is one of a handful of companies that have developed smart pill technology. Phillips is developing the iPill, which monitors acidity and temperatures inside the stomach to time the release of medication to a precise area for patients with intestinal disease.

MicroCHIPS of Bedford, Mass., also is developing smart pill technology. And researchers at the University of Florida created a smart pill they hope to bring to market within two years.

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