British pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline and Google's parent company Alphabet have announced they're creating a new company to develop bioelectronic medicines. The joint venture will be named Galvani Bioelectronics and will be headquartered in the UK, with 55 percent of equity interest owned by GSK and 45 percent owned by Alphabet's Verily Life Sciences division (formerly known as Google Life Sciences). Galvani will initially be funded with £540 million over the next seven years ($712 million), and plans to have treatments ready for regulatory approval by 2023.
Bioelectronics is a relatively new branch of health care, which as the name suggests, focuses on bringing together electronics and biological research. The term can cover a number of different therapies, but GSK plans to concentrate on creating electrical implants that can be used to treat diseases. This overall concept is similar to a pacemaker, which uses electrical pulses to prompt the beating of the heart. Scientists believe similar devices could be used to treat a wide range of chronic conditions — including arthritis, diabetes, and asthma — by stimulating specific parts of the body. Researchers say workable implants would be no larger than a grain of rice.
GSK has been interested in this field for years, and in 2013 announced a $1 million prize for innovative bioelectronics research. In a press statement, GSK's Moncef Slaoui said: "Many of the processes of the human body are controlled by electrical signals firing between the nervous system and the body’s organs, which may become distorted in many chronic diseases." He said bioelectronic seeks to "correct the irregular [electrical] patterns found in disease states, using miniaturized devices attached to individual nerves."
Galvani Bioelectronics is named after Luigi Galvani, an 18th-century scientist who is best known for his work on bioelectricity and his experiments animating severed frogs' legs using jolts of electricity. Galvani’s work is thought to have influenced Mary Shelley's creation classic sci-fi novel Frankenstein (although Shelley does not explicitly reference electrical reanimation in the book — that trope was the work of cinema).
The new company will initially employ 30 "scientists, engineers and clinicians," and will have a secondary research hub at Verily’s headquarters in San Francisco. Brian Otis, Verily’s CTO, said in a press statement that the move will allow the two companies to "have a huge impact on an emerging field." "Bioelectronic medicine is a new area of therapeutic exploration," said Otis, "and we know that success will require the confluence of deep disease biology expertise and new highly miniaturized technologies."