If you bought a car recently, chances are you haven't been sidelined by a flat tire. That's because new cars have onboard sensors to warn you about a drop in tire pressure — a predictor that you're heading for flatsville.
Wouldn't it be cool if your body had the same level of support? Imagine knowing that your heart was starting to fire irregularly or that Grandma wasn't taking her medication. That's the idea behind Proteus Biomedical, a seven-year-old start-up based in Redwood, Calif., that is working on "smart pills" — internal sensors that monitor a person's health. Someday Proteus' technology could link a number of implanted sensors and computer systems into a "hub device" that wirelessly broadcasts diagnostic data. Andrew Thompson, CEO and co-founder of Proteus, likens the approach to GM's OnStar, which warns drivers of problems with their car. It's better than paying to have warranty work done post-glitch. "It's much cheaper to equip people so they can get themselves tuned up before they break down," Thompson says.
Proteus has lined up more than $60 million in funding and will concentrate for now on designing smart pills that monitor mechanical and electrical devices, as opposed to, say, blood chemistry. Will we all ingest a Proteus pill someday as a precautionary measure? "I'm not going to argue that perfectly healthy people will have implanted devices," Thompson says. But the market for smart pharma for older people is certainly large enough for not only Proteus but a whole new industry.