University At Buffalo to Invest In "Smart Pill" Co-Developed By UB Researcher

Release Date: March 1, 1994 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N. Y. -- For the first time, the University at Buffalo, through the SUNY Research Foundation, is taking an equity position in a company that is commercializing technology co-developed by a UB faculty member.

The foundation is investing in the “Smart Pill,” which, like the tiny ship in the film, "The Fantastic Voyage," is a drug-delivery system designed to carry a medical payload to a specific site in the human gastrointestinal tract. The ingestible, electronically controlled capsule has potential for improving treatment of patients who require repeated delivery of a drug, such as insulin, to a small area of the intestine where it can be absorbed.

It also may have diagnostic applications, potentially replacing or supplementing the endoscope and other invasive instruments.

The Smart Pill was developed by David D'Andrea, president and chief executive officer of Gastrotarget, Inc., and director of Millard Fillmore Hospital's Engineering and Devices Laboratory, and Jerome J. Schentag, Pharm.D., UB professor of pharmaceutics and the company's vice president of research and development. Millard Fillmore Hospital is a primary investor in the company.

On Wednesday, March 2, at 3 p.m., UB officials will sign an exclusive license agreement with officials of Gastrotarget, Inc., in its offices at 750 Ensminger Road, Tonawanda.

Dale M. Landi, Ph.D., UB vice president for research, said the agreement "marks a new era in UB service to new business development in our community.

"Gastrotarget is a young, vibrant company that is the pivot of a new medical technology," he added. "It will be a great resource to Western New York."

Landi explained that in cases where UB has patent rights on a technology, the university has traditionally received a licensing fee from the company commercializing the technology.

But in this instance, the foundation instead will receive equity in Gastrotarget, becoming, in effect, an investor in the company.

"In this case, we'd rather share the risk and take part in the gain as Gastrotarget grows and prospers," said Landi.

The recent patent issued on the Smart Pill allows for broad claims to the technology.

Chosen by Popular Science as one of the top 100 inventions in 1992, the Smart Pill is the result of the combined expertise of D'Andrea and Schentag in microminiature electronics, mechanical and software engineering, and pharmaceutical sciences.

"This device allows us to protect a drug in solution as it travels through the GI tract and release it intact just as it gets to the right location," said Schentag.

He noted that while not every drug must be targeted so precisely, for those that must, this may be the only way to do it.

The pill would be particularly useful in treating digestive disorders, such as Crohn's disease. Because it will deliver a medication to a specific disease site, the desired therapeutic effect may be achieved with less drug, thus reducing potential side effects.

"This capsule represents a significant advance in medical technology," said D'Andrea. "With the Smart Pill, we have been able to miniaturize a complex electronic system and put it into a capsule about one inch long. You're not just taking a pill, you're swallowing the instrument."

Gastrotarget also is working on a National Institutes of Health-funded study to test where in the gastrointestinal tract the AIDS treatment, AZT, is most effective. Volunteers who are AIDS patients will be involved in the study.

D'Andrea noted that since Gastrotarget was established in 1992, major pharmaceutical companies have expressed serious interest in its products. The company, which manufactures about 20 Smart Pills each month, is working with several companies to test the absorption of drugs now in development.

Current methods of targeting drugs in the gastrointestinal tract involve the crude, time-consuming and often expensive method of intubation, in which a 20-foot long, flexible tube containing the drug is swallowed by a volunteer.

In contrast, the new targeted capsule is swallowed. Its progress is monitored by a tracking device patients wear as part of a vest. The vest houses a tiny computer, a battery, a receiver and antennae to track the capsule through the GI tract. The computer monitor is about the size of a Walkman.

The transmitter in the capsule produces a continuous-wave radio frequency that is picked up by the antennae and monitored by the small computer. As the capsule passes through the GI tract, the antennae continually determine how far it is from the site where it has been programmed to deliver a drug. When it reaches that site, the receiver in the capsule initiates the drug's release. The capsule later passes from the body.

In addition to its pharmaceutical applications, the device may reveal new information about the human body by providing a more accurate map of the gastrointestinal tract.

"We're finding that we can use it to accurately and repeatably measure internal digestive functions, such as the motions and energy associated with peristalsis," D'Andrea said.

For example, the researchers have detected very fast pulses of activity in part of the small intestine, which they have not yet been able to explain.

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