Could you imagine a drug so smart that it can detect if you haven’t taken in at the right time? The makers of a top selling medication for people with mental problems can… and they’re trying to make it a reality.
Have You Heard Of The Abilify?
If not, it’s a commercial medication that treats various mental disorders including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and depression. The company behind Abilify is currently trying to get approval from the FDA to put a digital chip in their pills that notifies doctors when a patient doesn’t take the pill at the right time.
If the FDA passes this, it would make Abilify the very first “digital drug” with a consumable sensor, which would lead the way for a plethora of new “smart” drugs that would strongly benefit those who have trouble following the doctor’s orders.
Wanda Moebius, VP of public affairs for the Advanced Medical Technology Association has gone on record as stating, “I think you’re starting to see these drug products used in more innovative ways,” and “We’re definitely — is it fair to say — on the brink of a new area.” For some, nootropics are no where near a household name or understand. But as the world of biohacking begins to blossom, nootropic supplements and smart limitless pills alike are going to keep rising up and raising the question of – can I actually be smarter, quicker thinker and more energetic without the over-the-top edge or harsh side effects.
Abilify, being a very popular seller in the US, has been prescribed by medical physicians for over a decade. Otsuka, the medical giant behind Abilify is looking to form a relationship with the maker of that aforementioned sensor/chip, Proteus Digital Health. Last month, both companies jointly requested approval by the FDA to be put under the new “digital drug” category that the FDA created to research these kinds of smart medications.
The chip has been used independent of any medication since 2013, and has been used to register heart rate, activity, sleeping patterns, and activity. How? The chip communicates signals to a patch that is adhered to the patient’s skin.
Integration of this sensor into drugs like Abilify, along with others to follow, allows doctors to monitor and record if their patients are following their orders accurately enough. The FDA’s decision to approve or disapprove of this is not expected until April.
Critics have made jabs at these smart drugs, indicating that patients could feel as if their privacy is being invaded. That could make matters even worse for someone who is already suffering mentally. Comedian and talk show host Stephen Colbert once joked in 2012 that, “Nothing is more reassuring to a schizophrenic than a corporation inserting sensors into your body and feeding information to all those people watching your every move.”
Smart Drug Studies?
Last year, the American Medical Association published a study conducted by Harvard University. The researchers looked at medications that utilized digital packaging, like electronic inhalers and pillboxes, that record data of the patient’s use. They looked at them to see if there was hard scientific evidence that these innovations improves a patient’s adherence to their doctor’s treatment.
The results were somewhat promising, as the researchers found some evidence that they did improve the patient’s adherence. However, they concluded the study by saying that more studies and experiments need to conducted to figure out if those smart dispensers [and smart drugs] can aid those suffering from long term chronic illnesses.
In fact, their exact words were, “Longer-term evidence is needed regarding use of [electronic medication packaging] in patients with chronic illness, since EMP, like some other adherence interventions, may lose its effect over time.”
In defense of its hybrid medication, Otsuka uses research conducted that shows that many of those suffering from mental disorders refuse to take their medication because they feel like they don’t need to take them. They deny that they even have a mental condition at all! A 2005 Columbia University study indicated that about 74% of sufferers stopped taking their prescribed meds during the 18 months that they were instructed to take it. They stopped using them before the 18 months even passed!
William Carson, the President of Otsuka, stated that, “Today, patients suffering from severe mental illnesses struggle with adhering to or communicating with their healthcare teams about their medication regimen, which can greatly impact outcomes and disease progression.”
Carson continued, “We believe this new digital medicine could revolutionize the way adherence is measured and fulfill a serious unmet medical need in this population.”
This new digital drug that Otsuka is developing could be very beneficial in making sure that those suffering from mental illness won’t stop taking their meds. The power to monitor their use won’t just be in the hands of doctors, but state courts as well.
45 US states have put forth court-ordered treatment measures. These permit judges to force offenders with serious mental problems to stay in treatment programs as a means to stay in the general population.
The founder of Mental Illness Policy Org., D.J. Jaffe, has expressed that,”These individuals already have a history of problems due to their unwillingness or inability to voluntarily comply with treatment. This could be an important advance for them that would help them maintain treatment compliance.”
Being able to discover new methods of assisting those with mental problems to take their meds would increase in importance if states passed currently pending bills that supported the utilization of court-ordered treatments. Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) is championing federal mental wellness legislation that would encourage that kind of treatment through block grants.
Jaffe thinks that the smart drugs could be beneficial far beyond the reach of just the mentally ill. A simple reminder to take your medication could benefit anyone.
He says, “Forget to take your heart med? An alert tells you. The first digital med is packed with respiridol, an antipsychotic, but I imagine it could eventually be done with other meds.”
Digital medical devices are nothing new in the market, with such things as drug-eluting stents that gradually release meds into an infected artery. However, smart pills like the ones proposed by Otsuka would be a trailblazer in this market.
Sharon Segal, the VP of technology at the Advanced Medical Technology Association remarks that, “The technology is evolving in a more complex way… You’ve got these pills you take and then they image you all the way through.”