UK-based pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline has partnered with South San Francisco-based Verily to create Galvani Bioelectronics – a joint venture to develop implantable bioelectric medicines, a branch of medicine that works to fight diseases by targeting electrical signals in the body.
Galvani, owned 55 percent by GSK and 45 percent by Verily (formerly known as Google Life Sciences) will have two research hubs, with one based north of London and one in South San Francisco. The venture will be led by Kris Famm, who was GSK’s vice president of bioelectronics R&D, and they will initially hire 30 scientists, engineers and clinicians.
Bioelectronic medicine is a relatively new field. It aims to tackle a wide range of chronic diseases using tiny implantable devices that can modify electrical signals that pass along nerves in the body, collecting information about neural networks. Galvani will work to develop such an implant that will then transmit that data to a handheld receiver/programmer.
In a Q&A with MedCity News, Verily CTO Brian Otis discussed some of the details of the implant the team is developing.
“This is the really exciting part about what we’re doing,” Otis told MedCity. “We are starting out with a cubic centimeter – half the size of a sugar cube – and progressing down to something that could be as small as a grain of rice.”
Galvani will target inflammatory, metabolic and endocrine disorders, including type 2 diabetes. Otis said they are trying to get close to the body’s organs that could be causing or contributing diseases. He told MedCity that initial investigation with the device will be to figure out where on the body the device goes, plus figure out what signal processing they need to extract meaning from the signals.”
Otis said the companion handheld device would be able to provide updates to the implant and get data, but the implant itself will also have intelligence, enabling communication with the implant from the outside.
“It’s the power of the integrated circuits that will allow us to do the computation necessary, the communication and the stimulation need to do this,” he said. “At the end of the day, what we are trying to create is a closed-loop system where these devices are listening to the body, listening to the signals traversing through the nerves or doing real-time signal processing on them and for each individual patient, optimizing the parameters that we’re [sending] back to the nerve.”
While GSK has been working on bioelectronic medicine for a few years, the agreement to establish Galvani represents a notable next step for the company’s research. Teaming up with Verily will meld the two companies’ experience – GSK’s drug discovery, development and disease biology; Verily’s technical expertise in the miniaturization of low power electronics, device development, data analytics and software development for clinical applications.
“Many of the processes of the human body are controlled by electrical signals firing between the nervous system and the body’s organs, which many become distorted in many chronic diseases,” Moncef Slaoui, GSK’s chairman of global vaccines, said in a statement. “Biolectronic medicine’s vision is to employ the latest advances in biology and technology to interpret this electrical conversation and to correct the irregular patterns in disease states, using miniaturized devices attached to individual nerves.”
Slaoui, who will chair the board of Galvani, said if the approach is successful, it offers the potential for a new therapeutic modality alongside traditional medicines and vaccines.