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  • 02.07.17

This Star-Shaped Pill Bounces Around Your Stomach For Weeks

Never forget a dose of medicine again.

This Star-Shaped Pill Bounces Around Your Stomach For Weeks

A remarkable 50% of patients don’t take medications as prescribed–which leads to an estimated 125,000 deaths a year in the U.S., and as many as 69% of all hospital visits. You could blame the patients, and you could blame the doctors. But ultimately, there are several human factors in the way–which makes the whole topic of medication adherence the perfect fodder for a redesign.

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From Apple Watch apps to more legible pill bottle labels to personalized packs to keep your drug routine on track, there’s no shortage of solutions to the problem.

Video: A Star-Shaped Pill May Revolutionize Your Medication

But the best possible solution is one that the patient wouldn’t need to be reminded of at all: It would be one pill you’d swallow once, and never worry about again (or at least, for a few weeks or a month). That’s the vision of a team of researchers spanning from Brigham and Women’s Hospital to MIT. They’re designing a remarkable pill that you swallow once to keep yourself topped up on medication for two weeks–and perhaps much longer.

As spotted by Slate, this six-pronged polycarbonate pill was developed through research funded by the Gates Foundation, the National Institute of Health, and the Max Planck Institute. You ingest it like any capsule, but within five minutes of hitting your stomach, the pill pops open–sort of like an umbrella, or a tripod.

The medications loaded into its arms are formulated to release over time, but it’s the pill’s shape that is particularly novel. This stellate object is optimized to bounce around in your stomach for weeks–stars can actually absorb shock better than the lattice geometric figures the team also tried–all while avoiding the two-centimeter gap that leads into your intestinal track. When the drug is fully released, the lattice joints dissolve and it passes through.

In a trial with pigs, the star was able to deliver an anti-malarial drug called ivermectin for two weeks successfully, despite the pigs’ rich diet in fibrous foods like banana peels and raw yams. Not only did the pill function as anticipated, the pig’s stomach seemed to be fine. In fact, researchers have studied its effects for as long as six weeks in swine subjects, with no perceived damage to the stomach or its mucus lining.

Some questions remain: For instance, how does the pill function if someone sick finds themselves vomiting? (In theory, the star is large enough to stay put in the stomach, but Dr. Giovanni Traverso, associate physician in the division of gastroenterology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard, admits that topic requires further evaluation.) To answer such questions and more, the pill is slated for its first human trials in 2017, and Traverso plans to develop it further with the company he cofounded, Lyndra. “Lyndra is focusing on developing the first ultra long-acting oral delivery system that will fundamentally change the way patients take medicine,” he writes over email. “Lyndra’s product development effort focuses on therapeutic areas where improved compliance and pharmacokinetic benefits significantly improve patient outcome, including neuropsychiatric diseases, heart disease, and renal disease, among others.”

No doubt, if Lyndra can solve even a small fraction of all medication adherence problems, it could measurably reduce both patient-related hospital visits and even deaths. Here’s hoping that human trials go as well as anticipated, and big pharma doesn’t give such a good idea an Epi-Pen price.

About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started Philanthroper.com, a simple way to give back every day.

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