New cancer drugs tell patients when it’s time for a pill

An ingestible capsule containing a digital sensor and chemotherapy medication allows doctors to monitor their patients’ at-home cancer treatment.

An ingestible capsule containing a digital sensor and chemotherapy medication allows doctors to monitor their patients’ at-home cancer treatment. (Photo: Brian Peterson, Copyright 2019, Star Tribune)

There’s an app for almost anything these days — even cancer care, thanks to a technology that can help to optimize at-home cancer treatment.

Experts from University of Minnesota Health and Fairview Health Services recently partnered with Proteus Digital Health to bring a new type of pharmaceutical called digital medicine to people being treated for cancer. 

Digital medicine is already being used in the treatment of conditions like diabetes and hypertension, but the M Health team is the first in the world to use it for cancer.

Here’s how Proteus Discover technology works: A pharmacist puts an ingestible, FDA-approved sensor and prescribed chemotherapy into a small capsule. The patient wears a patch on his or her torso that syncs to a secure app. When the patient swallows the capsule and it reaches the stomach fluid, the sensor sends a signal to the patch. The patch records the time the patient took the medicine, as well as the patient’s heart rate and activity patterns. This information is sent to the app, which is visible to the patient, his or her care team, and, optionally, a support network of caregivers.

“We’ve put a lot of time and thought into creating safeguards for chemotherapy over the years,” says the University of Minnesota Medical School’s Edward Greeno, M.D., also a hematologist/oncologist for University of Minnesota Health, who helped to implement the digital medicine program for cancer patients. “Digital medicine gives us the chance to provide safety oversight when a patient takes oral chemotherapy from home, which leads to better outcomes.”

Patients can see when they took their medication and get reminders before their next dose. They can also report any problems directly to their doctors through the app.

Taking oral chemotherapy medicine at home can be easier for patients, but it also can be challenging, Greeno says.

“If a patient doesn’t feel well, for example, that person might intentionally decide to skip a pill or take an extra dose,” he explains. “This can be problematic when taking oncology drugs. It’s also possible for a patient to misunderstand the instructions for their drugs and accidentally take them incorrectly.”

Proteus Discover can help to avoid some of these problems. Patients can see when they took their medication and get reminders before their next dose. They can also report any problems directly to their doctors through the app.

“It’s an additional tool I can use to keep my patients as healthy as possible and avoid potential problems,” Greeno says.  

Published on April 3, 2019