Chips ahoy: Big pharma to put computers in pills

According to some recent news stories we all may be swallowing computer chips in the near future. Some big drug companies are planning to put micro-chips in the pills we take in order to make sure we take our meds (and of course use up those pills so we have to buy more).

Science fiction? Not in the least.  Reuters reported on November 8, in a story by Ben Hirschler, that Novartis AG is hoping to get regulators to approve its new “smart pill” by 2012. Here is how it works. A microchip goes into the pill along with meds, it transmits its information to a skin patch which in turn can relay the informaiton over the internet or to a smartphone.

Sounds innocent enough. You really should take your meds and now your health care team can monitor you — it’s for your own good. The company also hopesto “expand” the uses of their chip due to “the wealth of biometric” data that it can be programmed to report on. Hmmmm.

There may be some real risks here as who know what information about your personal health these chips may broadcasting to the outside world. Suppose you need to take more than one or two meds– you can have all sorts of chips inside you at any one time broadcasting away.

Novartis wants to skip “full-scale clinical trials” since the chips are not themselves medicine, they are just being added to already approved medicines. But what are these chips made of? What affect may they have on the body? The article also asks how will the patent’s private medical data be protected from third party monitoring “as it is transmitted from inside their bodies by wireless and Bluetooth”?

The regulators will have to address this issue but they seem supportive of Novartis plans. After all these broadcast microchips will make sure we are all taking our meds and this “should deliver better outcomes and (more importantly-tr) justify a higher price.”



Thomas Riggins
Thomas Riggins

Thomas Riggins is associate editor of Political Affairs. Reach him at