Philips Research is set to unveil the iPill, an electronically-programmed capsule designed to deliver medicine at specific locations according to a pre-defined drug release profile.

Camera pills have been around for a while now. In fact, the first was approved by the US Federal Drug Administration (FDA) back in 2001.

But at next week’s American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists (AAPS) Annual Meeting and Exposition in Atlanta, scientists from Philips Research will be taking the wraps of a second generation device that sports even greater capabilities.

Like its predecessors, the new so-called iPill (pictured below) is also a capsule that has been designed to be swallowed and to pass through the digestive track. Unlike previous devices, however, it can be electronically programmed to deliver medicine at specific locations according to a pre-defined drug release profile.

The iPill determines its location in the intestinal tract by measuring the local acidity of its environment. Certain areas of the intestinal tract have distinct pH (a measure of acidity) profiles: the stomach is highly acidic and upon exiting the stomach the acidity of the gut sharply decreases and then becomes progressively less acidic from the upper intestine onwards.

Armed with this pH information and data about capsule transit times, the location in the gut can then be determined with good accuracy.

The iPill then releases medicine from its 11mm x 26mm drug reservoir via a microprocessor-controlled pump. According to Philips, the accuracy of the amount of drug dispensed against time measured was recorded to be better than 0.8 per cent in an average deviation of 0 to 95 per cent volume dispensed.

In addition, the capsule is designed to measure local temperature and report measurements wirelessly to an external receiver unit.

‘The combination of navigational feedback, electronically-controlled drug delivery and monitoring of the intestinal tract promises to make iPill technology a valuable research tool for drug development,’ said Dr Karsten Cremer of Pharma Concepts in Basel, Switzerland.