GSK, Google parent in bioelectronic medicine venture

LONDON • Britain's biggest drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) is forming a joint venture with Google parent Alphabet's life sciences business to research and develop bioelectronic medicine.

GSK will hold a 55 per cent stake in the venture, called Galvani Bioelectronics, and  Alphabet's Verily Life Sciences will hold 45 per cent, said a statement yesterday.

The companies will invest up to £540 million (S$957 million) over seven years, subject to completion of milestones.

Mr Kris Famm, GSK's head of bioelectronics research and president of Galvani, said the first bioelectronic medicines using implants to stimulate nerves could be submitted for regulatory approval by around 2023.

"We have had really promising results in animal tests, where we've shown we can address some chronic diseases with this mechanism, and now we are bringing that work into the clinic," he told Reuters. "Our goal is to have our first medicines ready for regulatory approval in seven years."

PROMISING RESULTS

We have had really promising results in animal tests, where we've shown we can address some chronic diseases with this mechanism, and now we are bringing that work into the clinic. Our goal is to have our first medicines ready for regulatory approval in seven years.

MR KRIS FAMM, GSK's head of bioelectronics research and president of Galvani, saying the first bioelectronic medicines using implants to stimulate nerves could be submitted for regulatory approval by around 2023.

Bioelectronic medicine is a new field that aims to tackle chronic diseases using miniature implanted devices that modify electrical signals that pass along nerves in the body. Glaxo's researchers believe conditions such as arthritis, diabetes and asthma could be treated using these devices.

The idea of treating serious disease with electrical impulses is not new. Large-scale electrical devices have been used for years as heart pacemakers and, more recently, deep brain stimulation has been applied to treat Parkinson's disease and severe depression. Last year, EnteroMedics won US approval for a device to help obese people control their appetite.

But Galvani is taking electrical interventions to the micro level, using tiny implants to coax insulin from cells to treat diabetes, for example, or correct muscle imbalances in lung diseases.

Verily aims to use technology to develop healthcare software and hardware. It is one of Alphabet's most important new ventures, residing in the tech giant's Other Bets division alongside smart home device maker Nest and fast Internet service provider Fiber.

In the second quarter, Other Bets generated US$185 million in revenue and Alphabet chief financial officer Ruth Porat said that mostly came from Nest, Fiber and Verily, in that order.

Verily's work with traditional drug companies includes developing smart contact lenses that can measure glucose with Novartis.

The collaboration with Glaxo is not the first joint venture for Verily: it funded a robotic surgery company with Johnson & Johnson last December.

BLOOMBERG, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 02, 2016, with the headline 'GSK, Google parent in bioelectronic medicine venture'. Print Edition | Subscribe