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Google and GlaxoSmithKline fling £540m at bioelectronic meds firm

Mini-robots float round your body and zap your neurons

Google and drug giant GlaxoSmithKline are spending £540m on a new joint venture, Galvani Bioelectronics, in a bid to develop and commercialise bioelectronic medicine.

The partnership between Verily Life Sciences, previously known as Google Life Sciences, and GSK, will boost the British pharmaceutical giant’s efforts in bioelectronic medicine which it has been dabbling in since 2012.

Galvani Bioelectronics will be headquartered in Stevenage, within GSK’s R&D centre, and another branch will be located at Verily’s facilities in south San Francisco.

Bioelectronic medicine is a relatively new scientific field that uses tiny, implantable devices to monitor and control electrical signals within the body.

The nervous system contains billions of neurons – cells that operate on electrical pulses in order to perform a specific function. GSK believes that certain chronic conditions such as arthritis, diabetes and asthma could potentially be treated using bioelectronic medicine.

A bioelectronic device works by targeting a specific area. The goal is to record neural electrical activity, analyse this data in real time, so that the neural signal can be regulated for therapeutic benefits.

Moncef Slaoui, GSK’s chairman of global vaccines, will become chair of the new company's board.

“Bioelectronic medicine’s vision is to employ the latest advances in biology and technology to interpret this electrical conversation and to correct the irregular patterns found in disease states, using miniaturised devices attached to individual nerves. If successful, this approach offers the potential for a new therapeutic modality alongside traditional medicines and vaccines,” Slaoui said.

Verily Life Sciences are also interested in how technology can be applied for medical purposes. It was founded last year and sprung from a Google X project. The aim was to create a contact lens that can be controlled via an electronic chip inside the lens.

The project is being developed by VLS for people with diabetes to measure glucose levels through tears. Current glucose testing methods can be quite painful as it involves pricking the finger to draw blood several times a day.

Other Verily projects use machine learning and algorithms to analyse signals produced from the body in order to identify patterns that lead to new knowledge about the progression of diseases. Analysing the data could diagnose diseases and help make treatments more effective.

Verily are working on a making wearable sensors to gather and analyse biological, physiological, behavioural, and environmental data in order to learn more about multiple sclerosis – a neurological condition where the exact cause remains unknown. ®

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