A Microchip "Smart Pill" Fuels Delusions Inside and Outside Novartis

Last Updated Nov 9, 2010 6:16 PM EST

Novartis' (NVS) move to seek regulatory approval for a pill with a digestible microchip that nags you to keep taking your medicine has spawned delusions both inside and outside the company.

The Novartis pill, being developed with Proteus Biomedical of Redwood City, Calif., works in tandem with a second microchip attached by an adhesive patch to your shoulder. The chip you swallow is activated by stomach acid and sends a signal to your cellphone containing data about your heart rate and respiratory patterns.

Conservatives see it all as part of President Obama's secret healthcare reform that will force us all to be implanted with microchips so that a One World government can monitor and control our every move. Novartis global head of development Trevor Mundel, on the other hand, thinks his "smart-pill" will drift through the FDA without clinical data proving that it works:

Because the tiny chips are added to existing drugs, Novartis does not expect to have to conduct full-scale clinical trials to prove the new products work. Instead, it aims to do so-called bioequivalence tests to show they are the same as the original.
Both the conspiracy theorists and Novartis are wrong. History shows that efforts to encourage Americans to ingest microchips have all ended in failure. And the notion that the FDA is going to take Novartis' word that a microchip will pass through the digestive system without any safety or efficacy consequences is plain silly.

Until now, the main company pursuing internal microchips was PositiveID (PSID), whose Health Link/VeriChip device is injected under the skin and sends an RFID-readable signal to any doctor with a scanner, connecting the physician with your online medical records. That company has all but given up on the device -- no one wants it. It continues to develop the GlucoChip, an implantable chip that measures glucose levels in diabetics, but it's having more business success with its iGlucose device, a measurement product that is not a chip.

Besides, if you're really worried that one day you'll be rounded up and chipped like a pet dog, comfort yourself with the thought that sometimes the chips fall out on their own.

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