Proteus Biomedical

Pills that only contain medicine are so very 20th century. Swiss pharma house Novartis thinks pills needn’t merely deliver medicine to the bloodstream, but could also monitor its effects and transmit data to physicians. As such, the firm plans to bring a chip-in-a-pill technology before European regulators within 18 months that can both deliver drugs and transmit information from inside a patient’s body to a patch worn on the patient’s skin. That patch in turn can transmit data to a smartphone or wireless network and on to the patient’s doctor.

The ingestible chips would be activated by stomach acid to notify doctors that patients are taking their medicines on schedule and at the proper dose–a particularly important aspect of recovery for organ transplant patients. As such, the technology will originally be packaged with one of Novartis’s established transplant drugs that reduces the likelihood of organ rejection in patients.

But the company hopes its technology, which it recently secured from California-based Proteus Biomedical, will be adopted as part of many regular pill regimens, transmitting a range of biological data to physicians so they can monitor not only their patients’ pharmaceutical intakes, but also how well the drugs are working. The ability to regularly monitor things like temperature and heart rate could help physicians better tailor a medication regimen for individual patients to ensure their dosage is as close to perfect as possible.

That’s all very cool, though the wireless beaming of medical data is likely to raise concerns with privacy advocates. But if better technology can bring about better medical results, it’s hard to argue that it shouldn’t be allowed–at the very least on an opt-in basis–just for privacy’s sake. Novartis hopes to have the pills in front of European regulators for assessment within 18 months. The way these things usually go, we’ll likely see it in the U.S. sometime after that, assuming it passes muster in the EU.