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Video shows Pfizer CEO at Davos in 2018 talking about another company’s pill

May 23, 2022 GMT

CLAIM: A video of Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla at a World Economic Forum conference in Davos, Switzerland, shows him explaining new Pfizer technology, a pill with a sensor that alerts “relevant authorities” when digested.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. The 2018 video shows Bourla was referring to a pill that had been developed by a separate company and approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration months prior. The pill, which includes an ingestible sensor to digitally track whether patients take their medication, is used to treat people with schizophrenia, bipolar I disorder and major depressive disorder.

THE FACTS: Social media users are sharing a video of Bourla talking about ingestible sensors at the World Economic Forum in 2018 out of context to falsely suggest the CEO was discussing technology that could be used for surveillance during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“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,” read one tweet, dropping the s on send.

Bourla was discussing a pill that the FDA approved in November 2017. The drug, Abilify MyCite, developed by Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co. and Proteus Digital Health, has an ingestible sensor that notifies doctors when the medication has been taken.

Pfizer has no relationship to the pill that’s manufactured by Otsuka, a spokesperson for the company said.

“The video circulating was taken before the COVID-19 pandemic, and Albert was speaking about a medicine for schizophrenia that was approved by the FDA,” Jerica Pitts, a representative for Pfizer, told The Associated Press in an email. “There is no evidence that Pfizer’s COVID-19 antiviral pills or vaccine contains microchips.”

The drug combines the psychiatric medication Abilify, which is used to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, with a sensor tracking system approved in 2012, the AP has reported. When taken, stomach fluids activate the digital sensor in the pill, sending a signal to a patch that the patient wears. It then alerts a smartphone app that the patient took the medication.

At the time, the new drug raised privacy concerns, in situations where there could be a potential breach of medical data or unauthorized use of the drug as a surveillance tool, the AP reported.

Patients also had to give doctors and caregivers permission to access the digital information.

“It’s fascinating what’s happening in this field right now. FDA approved the first electronic pill, if I can call it like that,” Bourla said in the 2018 clip. “It is basically a biological chip that it is in the tablet and once you take the tablet, it dissolves into your stomach, sends a signal that you took the tablet. So imagine the implications of that, the compliance.”

After a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic, the World Economic Forum gathering returned in person this week in Davos, a village in the Swiss Alps, that has been turned into a luxurious venue for the annual meeting. Business and government leaders will take part to focus on Russia’s war in the Ukraine, COVID-19 pandemic and climate change.

Otsuka did not respond to a request for comment at the time of publication.

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This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.