Philips pops out the drug packing iPill

Take one of these computers with a glass of water

An "intelligent pill" with a microprocessor, battery, wireless radio, pump and a drug reservoir to release medication in a specific area in the body was announced yesterday by Dutch electronics firm Philips.

The multivitamin-sized iPill, to be swallowed with a sip of water, measures acidity or temperature with a sensor to determine its location, and can then release drugs where they are needed.

The pill will be introduced at the annual meeting of the American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists (AAPS) in Atlanta this month and Philips is already talking to drug makers about using it to treat colon cancer and bowel inflammation.

Of course, capsules containing miniature cameras are already on the market. In 2004, your author saw a pill-size gastro-cam developed by Olympus during a show in Tokyo. While travelling through the digestive tract, the pill made 2 shots per second and images were sent wirelessly to a video monitor.

However, it wasn't exactly easy to steer the pill through the intestine, even with with huge magnets, and it still hasn't replaced conventional endoscopes which require a tube to be inserted.

Earlier this year another cam pill, developed by the Japanese RF System Lab, has entered clinical trials in the US. This pill requires 50 milliwatts to run its camera and lights, so patients need to wear a vest which contains a coil that continuously transmits power.

Philips says camera pills presently lack the ability to release drugs.

The company says the iPill is ready for mass production. The pill could cost as much as $1000 when it will be introduced. Eventually, though, the price could come down to about $10. ®

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