Most patients prefer to take a drug orally instead of getting an injection. However, a large majority of biologic cannot be given as a pill. Carl Schoellhammer, a MIT graduate student, invented a microneedle pill that may replace injections. On May 21, Schoellhammer won a $15,000 Lemelson-MIT National Collegiate Student Prize for his invention.
The system uses a capsule coated with tiny needles in order to inject drugs directly into the lining of the intestine. The capsule is 2 cm in length and 1 cm in diameter. It is coated with a series of stainless steel needles about 5 mm in length and 0.5 mm in outer diameter (25G). The needles are protected by a pH-responsive coating that dissolves upon reaching the intestine.
Fig 1. Carl Schoellhammer’s microneedle pill.
Because there are no pain receptors in the lining of the gastrointestinal tract, patients would not be aware of the microneedles injecting the drug. Schoellhammer has tested the capsule in pigs with success in both safety and results. The capsule could be used to deliver a broad range of drugs currently limited to injection.
Rani Therapeutics, a spinoff of InCube Labs, is developing a similar microneedle pill. The company is funded by Google Ventures, InCube Ventures, and VentureHealth. Rani’s capsule uses degradable sugar needles instead of stainless steel needles. The drug filled needles could be pushed into the wall of the intestine by carbon dioxide produced by citric acid and sodium bicarbonate.
Fig 2. Rani Therapeutics’ robotic pill.
 J Pharm Sci. 2015, 104(2), 362-367.
 Timothy Hay. Can ‘Robotic’ Pills Replace Injections? Wall Street Journal. February 18, 2014.