Guardian angel or watchdog? Pills of capecitabine contain sensors


Patients can communicate with providers over the phone app, which also sends reminders when it’s time to take the next pill.

So far, Proteus has worked with ten health systems in the United States, and more are in the works. Commercialization efforts have focused mostly on blood pressure, cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes drugs, the bad boys of drug adherence, but the system has also been piloted for hepatitis C treatment, and trials are underway for HIV preexposure prophylaxis.

Among the company’s many favorable studies, the system has already been demonstrated to be a viable alternative to directly observed therapy in tuberculosis, the current gold-standard, but hugely labor and resource intensive (PLoS One. 2013;8[1]:e53373. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0053373).

Proteus can’t be picked up at the local Walgreens. The company works closely with clients and is being careful in its rollout. For one thing, each sensor has to be programed for the specific drug it’s being used with, but also, and as with any new technology, business and payment models are still being worked out.

Dr. Scooter Plowman of Proteus Digital Health, Redwood City, CA Proteus Digital Health

Dr. Scooter Plowman

UM’s partner in the oncology project, Fairview Health Services, pays Proteus when patients hit an adherence rate of 80%, but how much they pay is a proprietary secret. “Most of the cost issue is still not in the public domain,” said Scooter Plowman, MD, the company’s medical director.

In 2017, FDA approved a version of the antipsychotic aripiprazole embedded with the Proteus sensor. The rollout of “Abilify MyCite” by Otsuka Pharmaceuticals has been similarly cautious, under contract with health systems.

“Otsuka has been very smart in the approach they are taking,” Dr. Plowman said.

He wouldn’t give details, but Proteus is in talks with other pharmaceutical makers to bring pills with sensors to the market.

A new fix for an old problem

Proteus isn’t alone in the ingestible event marker (IEM) market. The FDA is reviewing a rival sensor from etectRx, in Gainesville, Fla.

The etectRx sensor pings a neck pendant when it hits stomach acid. etectRx

The etectRx sensor pings a neck pendant when it hits stomach acid.

The technology is a little different; the etectRx sensor is a microchip made out of magnesium and silver chloride that’s embedded on the inside of a gel cap. Instead of an electric blip, it sends out a radio wave when activated by stomach acid. It’s larger than the Proteus offering, but still has room to spare in a gel cap.

The signal is stronger, so patients wear a neck pendant instead of a patch to pick it up. The pendant does not capture heart rate or activity data. It’s not meant to be worn continuously and can come off after it pings the system.

The two systems are otherwise similar; etectRx also uses a phone app to relay adherence data to a server cloud clinicians can access, with patient permission. As with Proteus, everything works as long as the phone is on. President and CEO Harry Travis anticipates clearance in 2019.

Harry Travis, president and CEO of EtectRX EtectRX

Harry Travis

Adherence is a huge and well-known problem in medicine; only about half of patients take medications as they are prescribed. People end up in the ED or the hospital with problems that might have been avoided. Providers and payers want solutions.

Industry is bringing technology to bear on the problem. The payoff will be huge for the winners; analysts project multiple billion dollar growth in the adherence technology sector.

Most companies, however, are pinning their hopes on indirect approaches, bottle caps that ping when opened, for instance, or coaching apps for smart phones. IEMs seem to be ahead of the curve.

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