Microchips and Video Games: Innovations in Healthcare

Dec 11, 2012

Stephanie Sutton Pharm Tech EuropeOnce upon a time in the world of healthcare, the only competition for a pharmaceutical company was other pharmaceutical companies.

Times have changed. Pharma companies are now competing with many nontraditional players in the healthcare arena, including electronic and mobile health firms, retailers, financial services companies and IT firms. Healthcare is no longer about just making a new medicine, but about creating greater value for patients, providers and payers, and encouraging a more active and healthy lifestyle.

In PharmTech, we often talk about manufacturing innovations, such as new dosage forms or more efficient manufacturing techniques, but today I’m going to look at some of the innovations that have been made in the healthcare industry as a whole.


A recent report from PricewaterhouseCoopers explained that microchips are being developed that will enable doctors to tell whether patients are taking their prescribed medicines. Nonadherence is a serious issue because it increases healthcare costs, increases patient deaths and belittles pharma manufacturers and scientists who have spent years developing a new drug or treatment.

Earlier this year, biomedical company Proteus Biomedical partnered with Lloyds Pharmacy to launch edible microchips. Data from the chips could be sent to phones (such as those belonging to doctors or a patient’s relatives) using Bluetooth technology.

Other companies are also pursuing similar technologies. PricewaterhouseCoopers further added that other implants in the pipeline include devices capable of injecting drugs at prespecified times.

Mobile health

A 2012 study has shown that 75% of the world’s population have access to a mobile phone, which means there is an enormous market for remote diagnostic tools and healthcare related apps. Indeed, many pharmaceutical companies (and other nontraditional companies) have launched apps designed to aid disease management or to enable remote monitoring.

According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, the app store Heppatique has launched a pilot programme that enables doctors to prescribe certain apps as part of a healthcare package.

Interestingly, mobile phones are also being used by pharmaceutical manufacturers, for example, to easily access protocols or guidelines, or to remotely monitor certain systems and equipment.


Video games

I was an eighties child when video games were about plumbers jumping on turtles and blue hedgehogs running as fast as recklessly possible. Now, video games are being developed to encourage people to live more healthy lives, such as games that involve physical exercise. These games don’t just target patients, but everyone, and are blurring the boundary between healthcare and entertainment, as titles about keeping fit and exercise continue to emerge and top the gaming charts. Nintendo’s popular exercise game Wii Fit has even been incorporated into hospital physiotherapy programmes.

Video games are also being used in other ways. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, HopeLab, a nonprofit organisation that aims to use technology to improve the health of children, has launched a video game designed to foster a positive attitude in young cancer patients. In the game, Re-Mission, players pilot a nanobot that travels through the body, destroying cancer cells, fighting infection and managing side effects from cancer treatments. HopeLab is also working on a new project targeting obesity. The project involves rewarding children for physical activity.

Pharmaceutical companies are also acknowledging the power and influence of video games. In 2010, Bayer unveiled a blood glucose meter in the US that connected to Nintendo DS and DS Lite consoles. Players receive points for testing blood sugar levels and meeting blood-glucose targets, which can then be used to unlock different levels in video games online.

New medicines are always going to be in demand, but while pharma companies are focusing efforts on drugs to treat lifestyle diseases, such as diabetes, obesity and high-blood pressure, and with drug development taking around 10 years, could companies find themselves outdone by other competitors seeking to make consumers healthy enough to avoid medication?

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