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Frequent medical dosing could soon be obsolete

You already know the drill. You get sick, the doctor sees you, and you take home several pills to swallow many times a day, for days on end. If you are lucky, it may be one or two tablets daily for only a handful of days. If you are unlucky, or already contending with a chronic condition, it’s likely to be several pills a day over a life time.

Swallowing prescription pills over prolonged periods of time can be a frustrating chore. No wonder many people never really get to complete whatever gets prescribed. WHO estimates that only about 50% of people in the developed world are adherent with their longterm treatment regimens. It’s worse in our part of the world. Estimates suggest that 70% of us never adhere to the duration of treatments recommended by doctors.

Non-adherence to treatment immediately raises a lot of health concerns. For starters, the rise of super-resistant bugs is aided by failure to complete a prescribed course of antibiotics. Other infections, like malaria in the tropics, cannot really be eradicated if people don’t adhere to treatment regimes. All this translates into billions of dollars in downstream healthcare costs. Estimates suggest non-adherence to medication accounts for $100 billion annually in the US alone. WHO goes even further to suggest that increasing the effectiveness of adherence to medication may have a greater impact on health than simply improving specific medical treatments?

But a novel solution may soon change all this. A new capsule has been developed, and is capable of staying in the stomach for prolonged periods whilst delivering medications for weeks or longer. Think of chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease, mental illness or even cancer. Patients afflicted with these illnesses undergo huge burdens with all the pills they must swallow daily. The new drug delivery system will only need to be swallowed once every few weeks. The control of various conditions will be optimized, making non-adherence to medication a thing of the past.

But don’t hold your breath just yet. This drug delivery system has only been tested in pigs and dogs. You see, pigs have a digestive system that is similar to ours. Whatever happens inside a pig’s stomach mimics what happens in our stomachs. This system of slowly releasing drugs within the stomach over a long period of time appears to be safe in pigs. Once further studies confirm safety within human stomachs as well, we will be onto a new path as far as adherence to medication is concerned.

With less frequent dosing for chronic conditions, people will be reminded less and less of their illnesses. Longer term disease control will be better, and so will be the quality of life for all those afflicted. The rates of non-adherence to medications will slowly wane off, and our populations will become healthier.

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