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Researchers develop sensor-enabled pill that can be detected using a smartphone

Pharmaceutical company Otsuka is a working on a medicine that’ll ensure patients take their medicine according to physician’s instructions, reports Wired. The breakthrough new pill is among the first in a new class of digital medicines that combine prescription medicine with sensor technology.

Otsuka has been working with its popular antipsychotic drug Abilify in a series of experiments to test these new digital drugs. In this system, Otsuka embeds a tiny chip inside the pill that can be easily detected when swallowed. An app, developed by California health technology company Proteus, is used to detect the pill and confirm that it has been ingested by a patient. If a patient fails to take his or her medicine, the app will alert the doctor to this lapse in medical care.

The sensor system uses a small piece of magnesium and copper, which is placed inside of the pill. When the metal contacts the acidic environment of the stomach, the two materials produce a small voltage that can be detected by a sensor placed on the skin of the patient’s torso. The sensor sends its information to the Proteus app on a mobile phone, which then shares that data with a physician — if permitted by the patient, of course

The FDA has approved both the drug and the sensor system in two separate applications. Now the government agency is prepared to evaluate the pair together using an evolving set of standards to fit the new class of high-tech medicines. Though being tested with Abilify, the Proteus chip and sensor system can work with any medicine and is currently being evaluated with medicines for diabetes and high blood pressure. If approved, this system could open the door for digital medicines and also pave the way for other companies to use pill-based sensors in novel ways.