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Smart pills ‘set to boom’

Published on 05/03/14 at 10:59am
Smart pill image

There will be an explosion in the development of smart pills used for internal imaging and even drug delivery within the next decade, according to new research by Frost & Sullivan.

Predicting a peak in new products between 2018 and 2020, the report says that technological advances in minimally invasive and remote-controlled devices are driving the market.

Some pills are already used for imaging and sensing but those for other applications - such as drug delivery and surgery - have yet to be proven clinically.

There is an increasing need for more convenient diagnostic and more accurate therapeutic tools, and this desire for greater accuracy for doctors and comfort for patients drives innovation.

This means wireless capsule endoscopes - replacing potentially uncomfortable procedures - and ingestible sensors for internal signs monitoring are among the next big areas, the research suggests, with private equity and venture capital providing the bulk of the funding.

“Government funding is more prevalent in surgical robotic pills,” it adds.

Frost & Sullivan also find that there is consensus between patients and doctors in their preference for smart pills. “This gives the confidence to researchers and investors to invest more time and effort in developing products,” the report continues.

“The smart pills industry is likely to experience a burst of new products in the next five to seven years, offering tremendous potential for collaboration between the industry and academia,” says Frost & Sullivan analyst Bhargav Rajan.

“While overarching product designs developed by the industry can lead to breakthrough  products such as capsule endoscopes, it is by leveraging ideas from basic and applied sciences at universities and research centres that product differentiation and value enhancement can be achieved,” Rajan adds.

For this to happen, there is a need for collaboration between patients, doctors, researchers (in industry and academia), investors and regulators - but confidence-building is also really important.

“Being a nascent market there is a need to build confidence among the stakeholders,” the report explains. “Measures like strategic and business partnerships as well as scientific and clinical education will help win the trust of regulatory authorities, investors and users.”

“In addition, it is imperative that companies take advantage of the government funding available to universities and small businesses,” it goes on. “This is especially vital owing to the uneven distribution of venture capital investment, which prevents start-up companies from developing into formidable players.”

In September 2012, Californian firm Proteus Biomedical started selling its own smart pill through the UK-based Lloydspharmacy chemist retail chain.

Helius was designed to tell patients when to take their medication. The system has already been tested in tuberculosis, hypertension and diabetes patients, Proteus said.   

The digestible chips are activated by stomach acids after being swallowed and the aim is to help patients take the right medicines at the right time, as many forget to take their treatments. 

Adam Hill

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