The report highlights that seven patients — all of whom have colorectal cancer in stage 3 or stage 4 and are being treated in Minnesota — have been provided with this treatment. The idea is that, by tracking when patients take their drugs, health care providers will be better able to ensure medication adherence and to provide treatment guidance, with the goal of improving health outcomes.
How does digital pill work?:
After patients swallow a chemo capsule, the sensor gets activated once capsule gets damp in the stomach fluids. The sensor then pings a signal to a patch worn by patients on their torso; which transmits data on the time of day, the size of the dose, and the type of medication taken to an online portal that the patient can view. If patients choose to allow it, their support team can access this database portal too.
This program in Minnesota appears to be the first one in which a digital pill has been used in oncology. So far, neither patients nor insurers pay anything beyond the typical cost of the medication for this high-tech upgrade.
This news sparked my interest for several reasons-
- As there is high proliferation of cancer disease world-wide, such digitization of cancer therapy will hopefully bring benefits to a wider population of cancer patients.
- Despite advances in Oncology, not everything about cancer is understood by researchers, doctors, patients and care givers. The resulting effect is that there is no cure for cancer, especially once cancer has metastasized or is beyond stage 2. Another peculiarity of cancer is that no two types of cancer are same, hence medications and their dosages administered to cancer patients are different. For example, dosage of Tarceva tablets prescribed for a lung cancer patient is different from what is prescribed for a patient with pancreatic cancer. However, the digitization platform done for chemotherapy of colo-rectal cancer can be researched further to extend to other cancer types, which can yield better patient compliance, superior therapeutic modeling and better treatment outcomes to a wider patient population.
- Additionally, this concept of 'digital pill' can be extended to other disease types too, where patient compliance has always been a problem; for example Tuberculosis, Schizophrenia, hypertension etc. Drug-resistant tuberculosis is worse to treat than regular TB. Hence, a digital TB pill will be a boon for patients and doctors alike. Similarly, patients forgetting to take their blood pressure pill is usual, especially among older folks. Such non-compliance issues can hopefully be nipped in the bud with digital pharmaceuticals for hypertension.
- Such digital pills can substitute the health system services which invest in phone calls and other reminders to patients to help them stay on track with their medications.
'Digital' pill is not only an impressive step in Continuous Improvement for Cancer Therapy, it is a significant step in Continuous Improvement for Health System services too! and, hopefully pave way for Continual Improvement in TB care, hypertension management and patient-centric drug product design.