Swiss multi-national Novartis will be inserting tiny microchips into blood pressure pills to track whether patients are taking their meds as prescribed. When patients veer off course, they get a text message reminder.
Joe Jimenez, head of pharmaceuticals at Novartis, said tests using the system - which broadcasts from the "chip in the pill" to a receiver on the shoulder - on 20 patients using Diovan, a drug to lower blood pressure, had boosted "compliance" with prescriptions from 30 per cent to 80 per cent after six months.
AdvertisementNovartis is partnering on the project with a small company called Proteus Biomedical for the purpose.
Getting patients to consistently take drugs for chronic conditions like high blood pressure can be a problem. The drugs sometimes cause side effects, but failing to take them can raise long-term risks for strokes and heart attacks without causing any immediate symptoms.
The Novartis experiment comes amid rising concern among governments and health insurers that they are not seeing the health improvements claimed by drugs companies because patients do not take the medicines as prescribed unless they are closely supervised in clinical trials.
Pfizer's Health Solutions division has developed a system to telephone patients to encourage them to take medicine.
"This industry is starting to explode," said Mr Jimenez, adding that he was close to recruiting a "compliance tsar" to oversee a wide range of other partnerships and programmes to strengthen appropriate use of medicines.
Mr Jimenez stressed that Novartis would still need to work closely with regulators and doctors to overcome any concerns, and negotiate an exclusive contract with Proteus in order to expand the approach. But he was confident that such approaches to boost compliance would be widespread in the future.