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Fact Check-Video shows Pfizer CEO in 2018 discussing pill with sensor for mental illness, not new Pfizer drug

A video from 2018 of Pfizer’s CEO discussing “ingestible pills” with sensors has gone viral, falsely presented as an interview from 2022, and edited to cut important context.

One Twitter user shared the clip on May 20 ( here ), commenting: “Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla explains Pfizer's new tech to Davos crowd: ‘ingestible pills’ - a pill with a tiny chip that send a wireless signal to relevant authorities when the pharmaceutical has been digested. ‘Imagine the compliance,’ he says”.

The tweet has since racked up more than 3.8 million views, and its claims have been shared on other platforms, including Facebook ( here ), Reddit ( here ) and YouTube ( here ).

The video does indeed show Bourla discussing “a biological chip” placed inside a tablet that “sends a signal that you took the tablet”.

He adds: “Imagine the applications of that – the compliance – for insurance companies to know that the medicines patients should take, they do”.

However, this is not footage from the 2022 World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, which is taking place between May 22-and May 26. It is also false to claim that the technology being discussed is from Pfizer.

The video shows Bourla speaking at the WEF annual meeting in Jan. 2018 ( here ).

He commented on “biological sensors” during a conversation on general technological advances in healthcare and pharmaceuticals ( here ), (segment begins timestamp 45:24).

In response to a question from the audience about technology ideas to “engage the patient”, he calls the research in the field fascinating and says that there is already a pill approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

He moves on to describe this pill, which is where the clipped version seen on social media begins, and he later concludes: “But of course there will be an initial cost and someone needs to invest”.

Bourla was not talking about a Pfizer drug or technology.

Rather, he was describing Abilify MyCite, a drug with a “digital ingestion tracking system”.

Abilify MyCite was approved by the FDA for the treatment of “schizophrenia, acute treatment of manic and mixed episodes associated with bipolar I disorder and for use as an add-on treatment for depression in adults,” according to a Nov. 13, 2017 press release ( here ).

Abilify MyCite (aripiprazole tablets with sensor) works by sending a message from the pill’s sensor to a wearable patch, which “transmits the information to a mobile application so that patients can track the ingestion of the medication on their smart phone,” reads the announcement. It adds that patients can also give permission to caregivers and physicians to access the information through a web portal.

The FDA gave the approval for Abilify MyCite to Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co and Proteus Digital Health made the wearable sensor technology ( here ), ( here ).

Reuters found examples of Bourla’s comments circulating without this context as early as Apr. 2020 ( here ).

VERDICT

Missing context. The clip is not from 2022, and the biological sensor technology discussed is not from Pfizer. The video shows Pfizer’s CEO Albert Bourla in 2018, discussing an FDA-approved drug with a sensor to track when patients with mental illness ingest their medication.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work here.

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