Novartis embraces 'smart pills' as some worry about intrusion

Last week, Novartis reportedly became the largest drug company to embrace "smart pills" by agreeing to pay California start-up firm Proteus Biomedical $24 million to acquire exclusive licenses and options on various advanced drug delivery technologies. That deal may have been dwarfed by Novartis' planned $50 billion takeover of vision-care company Alcon, but it may end up being more significant in the long run.

Proteus pills contain an edible transmission device that, upon ingestion, sends wireless data to a chip worn on a patch or embedded under a patient's skin. The chip then uploads data to a smartphone or Internet hub so doctors can monitor patient compliance with prescriptions and get an early warning about adverse reactions.

Novartis is getting into the business just as Dutch powerhouse Royal Philips Electronics is organizing a new division to develop an "intelligent pill" and other entrepreneurial firms advance their own innovations. But even some in the medical device industry worry about too much intrusion into patients' lives. A Medtronic official calls such technology "Orwellian," while at least one consultant believes patients will need a financial incentive before agreeing to take smart pills.

To learn more:
- check out this Economist story in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune