DENVER — SmartTab is a startup pharmaceutical company in Denver working on a way to deliver medication through a high-tech, ingestible capsule.
The company's CEO and founder Robert Niichel recently died unexpectedly of heart failure at 59 years old. His family has vowed to carry on his company and its innovation in his honor. This story includes an interview with Niichel before his passing.
If successful, SmartTab is on a path to a major advancement in the pharmaceutical world. Their InjectTab would be their first product to market. It fuses modern technology with the concept of a more traditional drug capsule.
"We want to make this capsule look like any other capsule," Niichel said. "So when you take it like a vitamin, or maybe a Lipitor, it's the same size, it looks the same. You take it with a glass of water."
But the intuitive capsule does so much more than dissolve medicine into the body. It includes tiny electronics, a battery, timer and microchip to communicate with an external device — like a smart watch or tablet — and self-deliver medicine that would otherwise need a syringe.
"The end user will be a patient who has a chronic disease that perhaps has taken an injection once a day or once a week and self-injected for many years," Niichel said.
SmartTab caught the eye of industry professionals and investors as a finalist at the 2022 SXSW "Pitch" competition.
The capsule could be used for vaccines. It could relay vital biological functions to a doctor, and a doctor could even change the dose, or program a timed-release of the particular drug.
"You basically swallow a capsule on an empty stomach," Niichel said. "It migrates to the bottom of the stomach. It will self orientate in a vertical position. It has built in sensors, and once those sensors give it a green light, it will make a very fast injection."
It then flushes out naturally through your system.
Niichel said the pain and anxiety of needles is a big inhibitor to patients getting the right medicine when they need it, and he said the InjectTab capsule takes that fear out of the equation.
"[Patients] don't have to get up in the morning and say, 'Wow, today's the day I have to stab myself in the leg,'" Niichel said. "All the anxiety going through that and the pain and the recovery and the leg swells up — all that goes away."
Niichel was working closely with the Food and Drug Administration for approval. SmartTab hopes to move to human trials in 2023, with the goal of launching InjectTab to market in 2024.
Niichel is survived by his wife Dixie of 35 years, daughter Page and son Zach, siblings Bill and Lisa, and his parents William and Mary Ann.