Bioelectronic medicine is a relatively new scientific field which could one day result in a new class of treatments that would not be pills or injections but miniaturised, implantable devices. The hope is that these devices could be programmed to read and correct the electrical signals that pass along the nerves of the body, to treat disorders as diverse as inflammatory bowel disease, arthritis, asthma, hypertension and diabetes. Since 2013, GSK has committed significant resource to research in this field.
To encourage open innovation in the field of bioelectronic medicine, any tools and technologies that come from the ICF funded work and the Innovation Challenge's winning entry will be made freely available to the global research community. The intention is that this will foster an environment of collaboration between researchers from different institutions and accelerate the development of this new generation of medicines.
These new commitments were announced by GSK at a White House forum to recognise the progress made in President Obama's Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) initiative. The forum highlighted the development and application of innovative technologies that can create a dynamic understanding of the brain, with the goal of helping find new ways to treat, cure, and even prevent disease.
In addition to the focus on brain mapping and brain disorders, the US neurotechnology research community has during 2014 made significant commitments to study how nerve signals outside the brain and spine may be altered to treat disease related to our organs. To further those efforts, the National Institutes of Health has announced the $248 million Stimulating Peripheral Activity to Relieve Conditions (SPARC) programme and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has launched the $79 million Electrical Prescriptions (ElectRx) programme. These programmes complement and significantly expand the funding GSK is providing to researchers and entrepreneurs in this emerging field. Together, such peripheral nerve-focused research will build the foundation for the future bioelectronic medicines GSK is working to deliver to patients.
"We see the development of bioelectronic medicines as a collaborative process that will only be successful with the combined skills of world-leading engineers, physiologists, neuroscientists and informatics experts," said Moncef Slaoui, Chairman of Global R&D and Vaccines at GSK. "Through this fund we're announcing today and the $1 million Innovation Challenge, we hope to address a critical need for that research community. The technology we target will unlock the next research phase towards a new class of treatments for patients."
The application period for ICF funding is October and November 2014 and funding will be awarded in two phases to qualified teams, ultimately leading to the selection of up to three teams being awarded up to $1.2 million each by mid-2015. Registration information is available on GSK's Innovation Challenge portal.
Progress made to date
In 2013 GSK announced its ambition to develop new treatments for disease through the nervous system's control of organs. Since then, the GSK Bioelectronic Medicines programme has furthered work in the research community through multiple efforts:
- Exploratory funding to more than 30 academic teams at 25 universities on four continents who are looking at the relationship between the nerves in the body and a range of diseases; the particular pattern of signals in these nerves; and new technologies that can interface with nerves close to our organs.
- Action Potential Venture Capital (APVC), GSK's venture capital fund, which launched in 2013 with $50 million in funding devoted to investing in start-up companies pioneering peripheral modulation of nerves and enabling technologies for future bioelectronic medicines.
- The Bioelectronics Innovation Challenge for the creation of implantable research tools and technologies, addressing key hurdles identified by the research community. Prior to today's announcement of the ICF, GSK had already committed to a $1 million dollar award to the first solvers of the Challenge.
GSK - one of the world's leading research-based pharmaceutical and healthcare companies - is committed to improving the quality of human life by enabling people to do more, feel better and live longer.