Otsuka sees Bluetooth pill container as a weapon against Pletal generics

Japan's Otsuka is hoping that smart packaging could help one of its main pharma products cling to its hold in the marketplace.

The drugmaker has partnered with technology giant NEC to develop an Internet-linked medicine container for its clot-fighting drug Pletal. The medicine is approved to prevent strokes, but to be effective, it has to be taken as prescribed--and the electronic bottle is designed to make that happen.

A spokesman for Otsuka told FiercePharma that the plan is to file a marketing application for the smart container with the Japanese regulatory authorities next year

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To remind patients to take a dose, the medication container flashes an LED light, and then records when each pill is dispensed. That information then feeds into a smartphone app via Bluetooth, the spokesman said.

"The intention is for the smart container and app to also communicate with healthcare professionals and 'designated others'," he added.

Otsuka's "smart" container fits into a recent surge of gadgets designed to track drug dosing, not only to make sure that patients take their meds as directed, but to help their doctors and other caregivers keep track. Respiratory drugmakers such as AstraZeneca, Boehringer Ingelheim and GlaxoSmithKline, for instance, are developing smart inhalers to track puffs on asthma and COPD treatments. Two new Bluetooth insulin pens have been approved in the last two months.

Pletal (cilostazol)--known as Pletaal in some markets--is already facing generic competition around the world but is still estimated to be a $250 million product for Otsuka, buoyed in part by the relatively low take-up of generics in the Japanese market.  

A pill container connected to the cloud might help the brand fend off competition from generics and other antiplatelet drugs in a fiercely competitive market.

It could also deliver significant public health benefits, according to the company. Among patients using clot-fighting drugs to prevent stroke, about 50% stop taking them within six months, Otsuka says, citing a study published in 2011 in the Japanese language journal New Remedies and Clinics.

Stopping treatment raises their risk of a secondary stroke, with devastating consequences for their health--and a substantial cost burden on healthcare systems. Cerebrovascular disease is estimated to cost Japan 1.77 trillion yen ($17 billion) a year.

In trials, Pletal has been shown to be significantly more effective than both placebo and aspirin for secondary stroke prevention.

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