FDA approves world's first digital pill

A new digital pill could help doctors better monitor patient health.
By Vicky Webb | Nov 16, 2017
The FDA has approved a digital pill that can track if a patient is properly taking their medication.

This new device -- which comes with an embedded sensor -- is a major step towards the combination of medicine and technology. The pill is a version of Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co Ltd's established drug Abilify for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and depression. The tracking device inside comes from Proteus Digital Health.

The new system allows doctors to measure if their patients are taking their pills on schedule. Though some may worry about the implications of the new monitoring, the FDA supports the technology because they believe it could help patients with certain mental illnesses.

"[W]ith the patient's consent, this information could be shared with their healthcare professional team and selected family and friends, with the goal of allowing physicians to be more informed in making treatment decisions that are specific to the patient's needs," said the organization in a statement issued last May, according to The Washington Post.

The pill works by sending a message from its sensor to a wearable patch, which then transmits the information to a mobile application that allows patients to track the medication on their smartphone. The sensor is roughly the size of a grain of salt and comes with no battery or antenna. It is simply activated when it gets wet from stomach juices.

While the early tests are for specific mental illnesses, digital pills could be used in the future to help patients with complicated medical routines. Poor compliance with drug regimens is a big problem for many patients -- especially in people with chronic conditions -- and this could be a way to solve such issues.

Scientists have spent years working on a pill tracking system, and this is a big step towards that ultimate goal.

"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," said Mitchell Mathis of the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, according to Reuters.

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