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Biosensors in Pharma: A Dose of Optimism


Pharmaceutical Executive

Pharmaceutical ExecutivePharmaceutical Executive-11-01-2019
Volume 39
Issue 11

Technology grabbing the attention of watchful industry

Among the newly accessible technologies that the pharma industry is monitoring or engaging with as it navigates a changing healthcare landscape, the ultra-small biosensor has been gaining traction recently. Technological advances in the area are seeing biosensors move out of the hospital setting and into everyday life. According to some reports, the biosensors market will surpass $30 billion by 2024. The fastest growing segment of this market, notes Labiotech.eu in a November 2018 article, is home monitoring kits, which “could make a big impact in ensuring people comply with the treatments prescribed by their doctor.”

With European studies showing that around 50% of medicines for chronic diseases are not taken as prescribed, and that almost 200,000 deaths each year result from patients missing or using the incorrect dose,1 the biosensor may become one of the saviors pharma has been looking for.

The problem of taking the wrong dose does not lie wholly with the patient, of course. “Dosing is a dynamic process,” said Dr. Timothy Rawson in his recent presentation on Imperial College’s research on microneedle-based sensors at the Sensors in Medicine Conference in London. Rawson explained how incorrectly prescribed antibiotic treatments are contributing to the antimicrobial resistance crisis, which is expected to claim 10 million lives per year globally by 2050. Thirty to 60% of antibiotic prescriptions are currently “inappropriate,” said Rawson. By contrast, individualized dosing can reduce the development of antimicrobial resistance, reduce the incidence of toxicity, and, in critically ill patients, reduce 30-day mortality.

Personal gain

Imperial’s work on microneedle-based sensors offers a hopeful glimpse into how biosensors are “opening up new frontiers” in individualized therapy. Coupling a real-time beta-lactamase sensor to a closed-loop system can offer more individualized use of antibiotics and a better understanding of the relationship between dose and clinical response, explained Rawson’s colleague, Dr. Sally Gowers. What’s more, the microneedle-based sensors are “minimally invasive, painless, and cause no bleeding.”

Experts predict that the biosensor’s impact on the development of precision and personalized medicine is on the horizon. Observing that no patient experiences exactly the same therapeutic response to a specific dose of the same compound, CatSci’s Ross Burn told Chemistry World that he expects the use of in vivo monitors to become “much more commonplace,” with the data helping to inform optimized population doses.2

A moment’s notice

Meanwhile, wearable sensors’ potential for real-time health monitoring will provide “a more complex picture of what’s going on in the body,” Eccrine Systems’ Andrew Jajack told Labiotech. “A lot of the way we diagnose disease is based on single-moment-in-time markers,” noted Jajack. Real-time monitoring via sensors, however, “will lead to more diagnostic techniques across a spectrum of diseases.”3

The pharma industry has been taking note. In September, Astellas Pharma announced a joint research and development agreement with California-based startup iota Biosciences to explore new biosensing and treatment measures using implantable medical devices powered by ultrasound waves from outside the body. iota co-founders and co-CEOs Michel Maharbiz and Jose Carmena said they “envision a future in which our ultra-small implantable devices will be used in combination with, or as an alternative to, conventional diagnostics and therapies.” iota and Astellas plan to use these purpose-built devices in preclinical studies in several diseases.

New era

It is two years now since FDA approved the first drug in the US with a digital ingestion tracking system-Otsuka Pharmaceutical and Proteus Digital Health’s Abilify MyCite for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and as an add-on treatment for depression. It has an embedded, ingestible sensor that records that the medication was taken.

The Astellas-iota announcement, however, looks like the start of a new era of industry investment in the area of implantable biosensors, which promises to extend their use beyond the realm of patient adherence.


Julian Upton is Pharm Exec’s Online and European Editor. He can be reached at jupton@mmhgroup.com






1. “Biosensors: Monitoring Our Health Anywhere, Anytime,” Labiotech.eu, November 13, 2018.

2. “Biosensors, wearables and virtual biotech,” chemistryworld.com, March 13, 2018.


3. Labiotech.eu, November 13, 2018.



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