Galvanizing innovation in medtech – and biopharma

Pulse of the industry 2016

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EY - Kris Famm

Kris Famm
GlaxoSmithKline and Galvani Bioelectronics

GlaxoSmithKline announced plans to combine forces with Alphabet’s Verily Life Sciences earlier this year to create Galvani Bioelectronics, a joint venture focused on bioelectronic medicines. We believe these therapies represent a completely new modality that complements small- and large-molecule drugs on the biopharma side and traditional devices on the medtech side.

This approach is enabled by tiny, implantable devices that are designed to precisely control the signals associated with specific nerves in the body. The goal is to use the built-in spatial selectivity of the nervous system to modulate disease pathways by delivering electrical signals at precisely the right time to precisely the right organ.

It’s still early days, but we believe this approach taps into a fundamental control system in the body that has applicability across a wide range of diseases. We are concentrating our efforts in metabolic disease, endocrine disorders and inflammatory disorders, where we hope to demonstrate proof of concept in humans within three years.

Because we can selectively target nerves that control one organ or system, this approach affords a level of precision that hasn’t been possible with traditional therapeutics. Unlike more traditional medicines, our therapies will only be active when the bioelectronic medicine is switched on. Our ultimate goal is to develop closed loop devices that automatically and accurately switch on, or off, based on signals in the body that reflect the disease state.

A long-term vision

Our joint venture with Verily is a long-term commitment. GlaxoSmithKline brings the biological and clinical capabilities, while Verily brings the technical know-how, including a rapid iteration mindset and an ability to de-risk the technology.

Over the next 12 to 18 months, our goal is to demonstrate as quickly as possible in animal models that this kind of precision neural modulation results in a chronic, therapeutically relevant change in multiple disease states. On the device side, we need to create a first-generation prototype that is not just stable, but can run on a low power source deep in the body.

But we aren’t starting from scratch. Both GlaxoSmithKline and Verily have already individually invested time and money in the effort. These stepwise investments mean we now have, at a crude level, a mechanistic understanding of neural circuitry in healthy and diseased states.

A different kind of partner for a different kind of company

Earlier this year, we realized it was time to bring the biology and technology together and ramp up our efforts. The goal was a step change in the device technology. Verily, unencumbered by existing franchises and device technologies, has been able to focus on building a portfolio of differentiated technologies that we believe can result in this step change.

On the data analytics front, Verily can also contribute significantly as we record, de-convolute and link neural signals to disease. Since these devices will continuously monitor the patient, we have the potential to generate a very rich real-world data collection.

Over the next seven years, GSK and Verily are contributing more than US$700 million to the initiative. Verily’s willingness to invest, and its access to capital, differentiate the company from other device developers.

Traditional medtechs more commonly acquire promising devices from smaller medtechs after the technology has proven itself. They don’t necessarily invest in the early discovery process. In this instance, where we hope to create a new class of therapy with transformational potential, that willingness to co-invest over the long-term was essential.

Note, we don’t believe Galvani’s products will primarily compete with either biopharma or medtech products. They will be complementary. Our hope is that if we are successful, Galvani will catalyze future innovations, both technologically and therapeutically, in both the medtech and biopharma sectors, which couldn’t be created by smaller companies because of the investment required.

This summary is excerpted from our annual medical technology report, Pulse of the industry: Medical technology report 2016. Download the pdf for more from our annual report. See also these featured articles from our report: