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The Next Big Breakthrough in Drugs May Be How You Take Them

May 4, 2017, 1:20 AM UTC

The next big breakthrough in medicine may not be what’s in our drugs but instead how they’re delivered to our bodies—advancements that have the potential to make existing medicines more effective.

“Drug pricing is not the problem,” said Andrew Thompson, co-founder and CEO of Proteus Digital Health, during Fortune‘s second annual Brainstorm Health conference in San Diego on Wednesday. “The problem is that we’re asking payers to purchase drugs that are prescribed that are not taken or not taken properly.” For that reason, medicines don’t always work as well as they’re supposed to, he added, calling it the “effectiveness gap.”

Thompson’s company makes medicines that talk to a patient’s cellphone when swallowed, reporting back to the device whether the patient took the drug and if the drug worked. The panel also included Braeburn Pharmaceuticals CEO Behshad Sheldon, whose company is working on medical devices that can be implanted in patients and long-acting injectables. Another panelist was Intarcia CEO Kurt Graves, whose company has developed a mini-pump that holds a year’s worth of medicine that can be inserted below the skin.

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One hurdle is changing the thinking of pharmaceutical companies, which have invested enormous sums in chemistry and biology. Thompson said silicone and software, “which are eating the world” and are critical in the future of drug delivery, are “not disciplines well understood inside pharma companies.”

The dialogue within the medical community needs to shift away from talking about how to change patient behavior, he said. Instead, producers need to change their behavior to embrace how consumers really do act. When pharma companies say patient non-compliance with their medication isn’t their problem, they’re “100 percent wrong,” he said.