MicroCHIPS heavily promoted some long-awaited good news this week about its wireless, implantable drug delivery microchip. A small human trial proved that it can work in people, and the patients were comfortable using the device. The small but significant progress also reinforces the reputation of the technology’s inventors: rock star MIT researchers and entrepreneurs Robert Langer and Michael Cima.
"Until now, you never had any way you could do this," Reuters quotes Langer as saying.
The Waltham, MA, company's coin-size device performed as intended in 7 out of 8 older Danish women in an initial human trial, delivering an osteoporosis hormone drug Forteo according to its programming and on schedule without premature leaking, according to coverage in Reuters, In Vivo, Xconomy and Bloomberg, among other media outlets that picked up the news. That's 132 doses in all. Each chip carried 20 doses of the drug and doctors implanted it over a 30-minute office visit. Patients kept the implant for four months and said it was not uncomfortable, according to the Bloomberg coverage.
Details of the study are published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, and they illustrate real progress for a device designed to eliminate repeated injections and make it easier for patients to take their treatment. But let's come back down to earth for a moment: An editorial published in the issue seriously dampens expectations for the technology. The publication notes that bringing the product to the commercial market is "a long, meandering pathway to clinical introduction" with "many hairpin curves ahead," according to In Vivo’s account of the piece. Ouch.
Company President and COO Robert Farra, who presented the study results at the AAAS Annual Meeting in Vancouver, acknowledged the challenges but said MicroCHIPS was quicker than most and that technology was finally catching up. But In Vivo notes that the road for MicroCHIPS has in fact been a long and winding one. The company launched in 1999, for example, and has drawn publicity for its technology for about 5 years already.
But what's even more important to consider, In Vivo points out, is that even if MicroCHIPS' products work perfectly, the technology may not be efficient yet to use on a large scale. Farra sees linking the device someday to a cellular network so doctors could more efficiently upload dosing information, rather than doing it retrospectively now, In Vivo says. But such an infrastructure would be expensive and take years to implement. Meanwhile, the company plans additional tests in more patients with chips that can carry many more drug doses and stay implanted for a year or more.