FDA Approves Electronic Chips In Medications

By Amir Khan on August 1, 2012 10:42 AM EDT

Pills
Medication is going high tech, and your next pill may contain something that it hasn't before. (Photo: Creative Commons)

Medication is going high tech, and your next pill may contain something that it hasn't before. A new "digital pill" was approved by the Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday, which experts say will allow doctors to better track patient usage habits.

Proteus Digital Health, a Redwood, Calif. based healthcare company, announced that their ingestible sensor was cleared by the FDA on Tuesday. The company had been working with the FDA since 2008 to get it approved, and an entire new category of devices had to be created to accommodate it.

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The chip is aimed at helping healthcare mangers monitor their patient's medication intake. The pill, which is the size of a grain of sand, is made of copper, magnesium and silicon. It reacts with stomach acid when swallowed to relay a signal to a patch the patient wears on their skin. The patch, in turn, sends a signal to a smartphone, which contacts the doctor to let them know the patient took their pill.

Until now, the FDA only allowed microchips in placebos, but these sensors will now be marketed to drug companies who can imbed them in individual pills.

The company said it set out to create the pill amidst reports that many patients do not take their medication as prescribed.

"About half of all people don't take medications like they're supposed to," Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute in La Jolla, Calif., who has no affiliation with Proteus, told Nature. "This device could be a solution to that problem, so that doctors can know when to rev up a patient's medication adherence."

George Savage, co-founder and chief medical officer at Proteus, told Nature that the company's goal was not to nag patients, but to ensure they follow directions.

"The point is not for doctors to castigate people, but to understand how people are responding to their treatments," Savage said. "This way doctors can prescribe a different dose or a different medicine if they learn that it's not being taken appropriately."

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