Robotic pill promises to be an alternative to painful osteoporosis injections

Osteoporosis patients have to endure a lot of pain because of the daily injections they receive. Here is a robotic pill that promises to take their pain away.
Rupendra Brahambhatt
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Researchers at California-based biotech company Rani Therapeutics have developed a robotic pill called RT-102 that can administer osteoporosis medication to patients in a painless manner.

Osteoporosis is a chronic disease that makes bones so weak that they may break under very low pressure. The bones become brittle and have almost no strength due to the condition. For instance, a patient with osteoporosis can have fractures even due to coughing or bending his body parts. 

The treatment involves a daily dose of teriparatide injection (sold under the brand name Forteo®) for up to two years, making it a very excruciating experience for patients already in a lot of pain due to their weakened bone structure.  

The US Department of Health and Human Services estimates that 10 million people in the country have osteoporosis, and another 43 million people with low bone density are likely to develop the condition soon.  

“This breakthrough technology of converting injections into oral pills is a significant step forward towards ending the burden of painful injections for millions of patients suffering from chronic diseases,” said Arvinder Dhalla, one of the researchers and the vice president of the Clinical Development division at Rani Therapeutics.

How does the robotic pill work?

RT-102 pill has a microneedle on the inside that comes loaded with a dose of teriparatide drug. When a patient swallows the pill, it first reaches the intestine, its target site. At this point, a tiny balloon equipped with the microneedle comes out of the pill and releases the drug. 

Finally, the vascularized walls of the intestine absorb the medicine. 

According to Dhalla, although the pill also acts as an injection inside the body, a patient doesn’t feel any painful sensation during the drug delivery process because “intestines do not have pain response to needles.” 

After the job, the balloon and other disposable pill parts come out of the body, and the needle dissolves.  

The researchers also tested the safety and effectiveness of their robotic pill against standard teriparatide injection in humans. They selected 39 healthy women and divided them into three groups. 

While members of the first and second groups received low and high dosages of teriparatide, respectively, via the pill, participants in the third group received the medicine using standard injections

During the study, Dhalla and her team monitored the movement of the pill inside patients’ bodies. Also, they checked the concentration of the injected drug in the participants' blood samples.  

They discovered that the bioavailability (the ability of the drug to be absorbed and used by the human body) of teriparatide delivered by RT-102 was equivalent to or even better than the drug administered using injection.

This phase one study “provides the first clinical evidence of safe and successful delivery of the osteoporosis drug teriparatide through an oral robotic pill,” said Dhalla. 

Hopefully, RT-102 will soon end the pain of millions of osteoporosis patients across the globe.