GlaxoSmithKline is in need of fresh ideas after Emma Walmsley, new chief executive, has decided to scrapped nearly one in seven clinical drug development programmes to focus on the “real winners”.
The new hopes are now focusing on a on a radical innovative approach: “electroceuticals” or bioelectronics: tiny electronic implants able to treat a vast range of chronic diseases.
To pursue this new aim GSK has teamed up with Alphabet, Google’s parent company, to set up Galvani Bioelectronics run by Kris Famm.
One year after the venture started, Famm is confident that an implantable device capable of altering electrical impulses in the body is within reach..
“Maybe over the next 12 months we’ll have one [a device],” Famm tells the Guardian in an interview. “It will then be tested in initial human trials involving five to 10 people. The device must be easy to implant in the body via keyhole surgery, as well as being leak- and corrosion-proof and with enough battery power to avoid frequent charging. This is a decade-long endeavour,” Famm says. “From the mid-2020s we should see a wave of therapies that will make this [bioelectronics] much more commonplace.”
He likens it to the way mobile phones have changed our lives in the past 20 years.
Galvani has also set up a prize of a $1m (£770,000) to racing to develop an implant that can record, stimulate and block neural signals and several academics are now running to be the final winner. Along this Galvani has struck more than 50 partnerships to speed up the development of bioelectronics, but is also working on its own device
GSK is the only big pharma company working on the development of bioelectronics
Bioelectronics could be able to treat a vast range of chronic diseases, such as diabetes, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), arthritis, hypertension and other heart conditions, and gastrointestinal diseases, but it will be unlikely to work for cancer or brain disorders such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s as they affect the whole brain tissue.
Indeed GSK decided to focus on the peripheral nervous system because the brain is hugely complex, Famm says.
Prof John Donoghue, director of the Wyss Center for Bio and Neuroengineering in Geneva, said: “Can you influence nerves? Yes, it can be done.” But surrounding nerves with stimulating electrodes to get the right effect is tricky. “I wouldn’t call it bonkers but it’s a hard thing to do,” Donoghue adds. “Making this advance could easily take a decade or more.
Read the full article: The Guardian