New drug delivery designs could benefit oral medication users
Drug delivery methods have undergone major transformations and re-designs in recent decades, propelled in part by the speed of technological innovation. Delivery mechanisms, with the integration of biological understanding and detailed pharmacodynamics analysis, have provided patients with increased convenience and comfort when it comes to taking their medications. While we are encouraged by the new delivery designs developed with the end-user experience in mind, there is still potential for significant improvement, especially for patients who have reported difficulty swallowing standard-sized pills.
In one survey conducted by Harris Interactive, the researchers found that 40% of American adults have trouble taking oral medications (pills, tablets, or capsules) even if they do not have difficulty swallowing food or liquids (a condition known as Dysphagia). Difficulty swallowing led 14% of these patients to delay taking their medications, 8% to skip doses and 4% to go off their regimens completely. Even more surprising, only 14% of those patients surveyed alerted their doctors to the problem.
Swallowing difficulty is a serious impediment to achieving better patient outcomes because it causes a noticeable reduction in patients’ adherence to prescribed drug regimens. However, there is no easy solution for this problem. Presently, there are simply too few alternative forms of medication available that could be considered adequate replacements for prescribed oral medications. Of the top 10 generic drugs that accounted for 65% of all prescriptions written in the U.S in 2008, only four had non-pill / tablet / capsule equivalents. Unfortunately, there is little sign of things improving. In 2010, of the five most prescribed generic drugs in the nation, only one (generic Glucophage) offered a non-oral alternative like a suppository, inhaler or patch. In a previous post, we discussed the difficulties of developing and manufacturing two-drug inhalers.
The lack of progress on this front certainly calls for a rethinking of drug delivery design and may present opportunities for generic companies to provide added value to their products and draw niche consumers. The re-design need not be a technological breakthrough, but simply one that targets the swallowing problem and helps patients ‘stick’ with their medications. In March of this year, a Denver based start-up company named UrgentRx came up with a moisture-proof envelope that allows patients to carry their powdered medication in a wallet or purse. This is a service design that could trigger some interesting applications for pills and tablets. Given how important generic drugs and patient compliance are to improving the quality and cost of the U.S. health care system, we hope to be able to report more progress on alternative drug delivery systems in the near future.