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Replacing Drug Injections with High-Tech Pills

Kevin Campbell, M.D.
FEBRUARY 25, 2019
Researchers have developed a new high-tech pill that could potentially end the need for drug injections—think insulin shots. This pill has the potential to improve medication compliance and adherence in patients with diabetes. While the pill showed it can work in tests in animal models, more work still needs to be done to prove its effectiveness in humans. So, how can we as CEO’s, healthcare executives and physicians promote these developments and ultimately use technology like this to improve patient outcomes?

Welcome to The Clinical Divide. I’m Dr. Kevin Campbell, a Duke-trained cardiologist and CEO of the health data startup PaceMate. Every week, this Inside Digital Health™ video series examines healthcare technology and medicine’s top news. I bring the views that help physicians and healthcare executives bridge the clinical divide.



Injectable medicines like insulin, or other drugs such as monoclonal antibodies that are used to treat cancer and other diseases, are really not easily delivered due to the fact that they are poorly absorbed through the stomach and the intestines. With that in mind, a group of bright researchers from Harvard, MIT and Novo Nordisk set out to find a solution that delivers previously injectable-only drugs in a capsule that can be swallowed. This device, called the Soma, is shaped like the shell of a leopard tortoise, and contains a miniature post inside — this is filled with insulin. Once swallowed, the device positions itself against the stomach wall, the post pops out and the insulin gets injected.

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Soma was tested and works in both pigs and rats so far. While the device testing was successful and delivered just as much insulin as a conventional injection, it was found that the animal’s stomach needed to be empty when the capsule was swallowed in order to achieve the most consistent and predictable drug delivery.  These promising results have prompted other trials already, and the researchers hope to start testing Soma on humans within the next three years — I personally don’t think that’s quick enough!

This technology has the potential to be a game changer by improving medication adherence and compliance in patients with chronic conditions — that can be very expensive and life-threatening — like diabetes, or cancer patients. These are folks who generally have to inject their medicine. As the parent of a diabetic child, I cannot tell you what it would mean to hundreds of thousands of Type 1 children throughout the world if this were successful. 

As CEO and physician leaders, we must continue promote and encourage those who are working on novel therapeutics such as this one. Let’s work to improve compliance and outcomes by helping patients get the medicine they need in a much more convenient way. We have to support the manufacturers of such drugs and we have to back the research and clinical trials of these products in order to more quickly get them to market, while at the same time ensuring that they are safe and effective for use in human beings.

Thank you for joining me for this episode of The Clinical Divide. Until next week, I’m Dr. Kevin Campbell, for Inside Digital Health™.

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