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PROTOTYPE
Swell Pill

Drugmakers pack medicines into small pills so they’ll slide easily down the throat, but pills’ drawbacks – the uneven way they deliver drugs, their tendency to cause nausea and diarrhea – can be hard to swallow. Menlo Park, CA’s Depomed has a solution: an aspirin-sized tablet that swells to the size of a nickel once it reaches the stomach. When the pill hits the stomach’s gastric fluid, polymers mixed in with the drug puff up. The bloated tablet can’t pass into the small intestine, so it stays in the stomach – where many drugs are best absorbed – for six to eight hours. This delay permits a slower, steadier release of the drug as the pill dissolves. It also keeps the drug out of the lower gastrointestinal tract, where medications such as antibiotics can kill normal bacteria, causing diarrhea and other side effects. Depomed expects its first product – containing metformin, a popular diabetes drug – to earn regulatory approval this year. Because it releases a steady dose of metformin over a longer period of time, the new pill will need to be taken only once a day, versus two to three times a day for the conventional version. Depomed is also testing pills aimed at treating urinary-tract infections, seizures, pain, and other conditions.

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