London, UK – This past Monday, GSK announced an exciting new partnership with Verily Life Sciences (formerly Google Life Sciences). This joint venture will be called Galvani Bioelectronics, and it will be focused on research, development and bringing to market bioelectronic medicines.
Bio-what? Bioelectronics is an incredibly hyped, up-and-coming field of therapies that use tiny implantable devices to tap into the nervous system and modify electrical signals. Small electrical currents pass through the nervous system normally, aiding in the functioning and regulation of vital organs. It is thought that certain irregularities and altered patterns to these currents are associated with a wide variety of diseases—diabetes, ibd, asthma, hypertension, and arthritis, to name just a few.
The promise of these “electroceuticals” is intriguing—a much more precise, more targeted approach to therapy, with little to no side effects. As Kevin Tracey, a neurosurgeon, puts it in an article on STAT:
Everyone wants to use devices to replace drugs. Every cell in the body is within shouting distance of sensory neurons, so in principle bioelectronics have great potential.
Like with any other innovative new therapy, there are still many questions (how do these electrical pathways work? how can they be manipulated to treat?), and just as many skeptics as there are proponents. There haven’t yet been the type of large-scale, extensive studies needed to truly legitimize these devices, and there is currently only one therapy that is in market (an obesity treatment).
Despite the questions, the money is flowing in. GSK, a pioneer in the pursuit of “electroceuticals,” has already invested $50 million in the past 5 years, and the Galvani project will see both GSK and Google commit to a whopping $700 million over the next 7 years. Other early investors include the Pentagon (the $80 million ElectRx initiative) and the National Institutes of Health ($250 million SPARC project).
Why it matters-
Kevin Tracey’s first sentence in the pull quote above pretty much sums it all up. ‘Beyond the pill’ pursuits of all shapes and sizes are worth tracking, but especially when the key pioneers happen to be the same big pharma players whose ‘pills’ may start to be replaced by innovative new therapies down the road. Bioelectronics are exciting in that they represent an entirely new approach to disease management and treatment. It will be interesting to see how a partnership of this magnitude will shape it’s path toward legitimacy and adoption.
For an amazingly simple and interesting breakdown of how bioelectronics work (including a quick video), you can head over to STAT. And for the GSK perspective on the potential of bioelectronics, you can check out their resource on it here.