Devicemakers eye market for drug adherence

Insulet's Omnipod has a built-in 200-unit insulin reservoir and automated inserter. It weighs 25 grams with an empty reservoir.

A number of new companies are developing technologies that seek to address how patients take their medicines, as part of a broader effort to improve adherence among those patients.

Insulet is one example. The company produces small skin-adhesive pods called OmniPods (pictured) that administer the delivery of subcutaneous drugs. About 80,000 patients in the U.S. and Europe are using the Omnipod to take medications for type 1 diabetes, according to Daniel Levangie, EVP and president of Insulet Drug Delivery.

“The initial intent was to deliver medication for type 1 diabetes patients,” Levangie said. “It's automated. Patients never have to inject themselves. It's discrete and controlled by a handheld device to allow patients to adjust their basal rate.”

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Medication adherence is an issue that healthcare providers and drugmakers are constantly trying to improve. Non-adherence rates are estimated to be between 15% and 30% and account for $100 billion to $289 billion in financial costs annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Another example is Proteus Digital Health, which developed an ingestible sensor that is included in the medication. When a patient swallows the pill, the sensor activates once it reaches the stomach. Proteus is also partnering with drugmakers, such as Otsuka, and health systems like Barton Health.

Insulet has since expanded the use of the skin-adhesive pod for biologic drugs that cannot be taken orally and is partnering with companies including Amgen and Ferring Pharmaceuticals to treat conditions ranging from cancer to infertility.

In the case of Amgen, Insulet developed Onpro, which is used by patients undergoing treatment with Neulasta. The drug is used to stimulate patients' white bloods cells and increase their natural immunity. The technology allows dosing to be scheduled — the OmniPod wakes up and infuses the drug into the patient 27 hours after their chemotherapy, which reduces the frequency of patients' visit to the doctor.

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“Clearly, it's a much more convenient way of administering Neulasta,” said Levangie. “Now that the patient can use the device, we should expect substantial improvement in adherence. This would obviate the need to go back to the clinic for a dose.”

Amgen said it has converted roughly 25% of their Neulasta doses to using the Onpro technology as of the end of 2015.

Ferring Pharmaceuticals uses the pod to administer Lutrepulse, a hormone therapy used by women undergoing treatment for infertility. The pod makes drug delivery easier for the patient, since the hormone needs to be given in a pulsing manner and doses need to be injected sporadically, explained Levangie.

“The overwhelming investment is in biologic therapies,” said Levangie.

What he hopes to explore next is providing real-time feedback to clinicians and healthcare providers.

“I think that's a really interesting aspect, where you can communicate, track, and report the level of adherence by the level of communication,” said Levangie.