21 Nov'17

Are digital pills the future of medicine?


The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced their approval of the first digital drug in the U.S.


The pill, called Abilify MyCite, tracks whether patients have taken their medication with an ingestible sensor that is connected to a patch worn by the patient. The sensor is the size of a grain of sand and is made from silicon, cooper and magnesium. The tracking sensor is triggered when the it comes in contact with stomach acid, and by passes through the body naturally. The patch that obtains the data needs to be changed weekly.


The data from the pill is transmitted from the patch via Bluetooth to a smartphone app; the patient can upload this data to their doctor.


The pill is designed for patients diagnosed with schizophrenia, or undergoing acute treatment for manic and mixed episodes of bipolar, or suffering with depression.


A downfall of the pill is that ‘detection may be delayed or may not occur’ and so Abilify MyCite should not be used to track ‘drug ingestion in “real-time” or during an emergency’. Health professionals have also been warned not to give the pill to ‘dementia-related psychosis’ or to those taking anti-depressants as Abilify MyCite could cause an increase in suicidal thoughts.


The Verge reports that the pill ‘comes after years of research and is a venture between Japanese pharmaceutical company Otsuka and a digital medicine service Proteus Digital Health.’


In response to The Food and Drug Administration’s announcement, the New York Times published opinions from medical experts.


Dr William Shrank (Chief Medical Officer of the Health Plan division at University of Pittsburgh Medical Centre) said ‘When patients don’t adhere to lifestyle of medications that are prescribed for them, there are really substantive consequences that are bad for the patient and very costly’.


Dr Peter Kramer was of the opinion that a digital drug ‘sounds like a potentially coercive tool’.


So far nine health systems in six US states have started to prescribe the pill for illnesses such as hypertension and hepatitis C.


Are digital pills the future of medicine?