GlaxoSmithKline and Alphabet’s life sciences unit are creating a new company focused on fighting diseases by targeting electrical signals in the body, jump-starting a new field of medicine known as bioelectronics.
Verily Life Sciences—known as Google’s life sciences unit until last year—and Britain’s biggest drug maker will together contribute 540 million pounds ($715.12 million) over seven years to Galvani Bioelectronics, they said on Monday.
The new company will be based at GSK’s Stevenage research center north of London, with a second research hub in South San Francisco.
GSK first unveiled its ambitions in bioelectronics in a paper in the journal Nature three years ago and believes it is ahead of Big Pharma rivals in developing medicines that use electrical impulses rather than traditional chemicals or proteins.
For Verily, the tie-up is the latest sign that Google’s desire to move beyond search engines into biology and other scientific areas is gaining traction.
Verily already has several other medical projects in the works, including the development of a smart contact lens in partnership with the Swiss drugmaker Novartis that has an embedded glucose sensor to help monitor diabetes.
Galvani, owned 55% by GSK and 45% by Verily, will develop miniaturized, implantable devices that can modify electrical nerve signals. The aim is to modulate irregular or altered impulses that occur in many illnesses.
GSK believes certain chronic conditions such as diabetes, arthritis and asthma could potentially be treated using these tiny devices.
The idea of treating serious disease with electrical impulses is not completely 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, severe depression and certain neurological movement disorders.
In future, however, the aim is to apply electrical interventions at the micro level, using tiny implants to coax insulin from cells to treat diabetes, for example, or correct muscle imbalances in lung diseases.
Galvani will initially employ around 30 scientists, engineers and clinicians.