How do you solve the massive problem of people who don’t take their medication correctly, endangering themselves and causing headaches for insurance companies? Startup Mango Health has taken the software route, creating a well-designed app that reminds patients to take their medication. A new company called AdhereTech is taking a different approach: a smart pill bottle that leverages the same technology found in cell phones to ensure that patients don’t forget their pills.
"We’re building a cell phone into the bottle," explains Josh Stein, CEO of AdhereTech. The high-tech bottle, based on technology from the University of Alabama, features wireless connectivity, sensors that measure humidity along with exactly how many pills (or liquid doses of medication) are left, blinking lights, and a battery that lasts 45 days.
The bottle is mindlessly simple to use, according to Stein. "Grandma would use it like a normal bottle. She picks it up from the pharmacy, and if she forgets her pills, she gets an automated phone call. The wireless module inside the bottle automatically connects to the cloud, where patients have access to all their medication adherence data. They can choose between receiving a call, text, an email, or a blinking light reminder to take their pills.
There are other smart pill bottles out there, but they don’t have all the functionality of AdhereTech’s model. "Other products measure when the bottle is moved, a cap is opened or closed and assume the correct dose was taken. We measure the contents and the open and close. The sensor knows how many pills are left," says Stein. "And other solutions require patients to change the way they change their medicine."
AdhereTech’s open API means that patients will be able to insert their data into apps and sync it with medical devices (i.e. glucose monitors). AdhereTech will have its own UI, but the bottle’s strength lies in its ability to interact with other products.
First up for AdhereTech: a trial this summer with Walter Reed Army Medical Center that will pit the company’s bottles against control groups for type 2 diabetes patients to see which solution is best for adherence. More trials will come soon after that.
Stein has a bunch of different business models mapped out for the company; ideally, he hopes to partner with high-cost specialty drugs to deliver medications in the AdhereTech bottle directly from pharmacies. Alternatively, patients could dump pills from a regular bottle into the AdhereTech bottle, possibly in exchange for rewards from insurance companies who are monitoring adherence.
There’s no doubt that AdhereTech, which has raised $200,000 in seed funding, is tapping a big market. As Stein points out, "Even small increases in adherence lead to increased revenue for pharma companies and [better] health outcomes for patients." But each bottle currently costs $60, so the technology will only make sense in the foreseeable future for high-cost drugs that have pricey negative consequences when pills are missed. That’s the price of having a cell phone inside a bottle.