Pharma Giant Plans to Cure Disease ... Without Drugs

GSK looks to nervous system for new field of medicine

Less than four years ago, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) announced plans to eavesdrop on the body’s electrical system and enter into the body’s internal conversations in order to heal disease, and that initiative is already showing results, according to an article posted on the Motley Fool website.

GSK’s first investment was in SetPoint Medical, a California company that is developing a platform to treat inflammatory diseases by modulating nerve signals with implanted devices. In July 2016, SetPoint reported the results from a first-in-human study of vagal nerve stimulation by an implanted device for the treatment of arthritis. The study showed that the approach inhibited the production of tumor necrosis factor (TNF) and improved symptoms, including in some patients who had not responded to conventional drug treatments. In January 2017, SetPoint reported positive results from another human study using its device to treat Crohn’s disease.

Organs are controlled by patterns of electrical impulses transmitted through nerve fibers, but when organs become dysfunctional in chronic disease, those patterns are different, according to the article. That fact opens up the possibility that inserting electrical patterns in nerves to certain organs can correct conditions that lead to disease. Using electrical impulses to influence organ function is nothing new––cardiac pacemakers have been in use for decades––but scientists are just beginning to realize the possibilities of using nerve signals to restore organs to normal function and actually treat disease, the article says.

Last August, GSK partnered with a company called Alphabet to create Galvani Bioelectronics. Galvani, in turn, teamed up with Verily Life Sciences in a $715 million venture designed to map the human nervous system; crack the electrical codes flowing through nerves controlling the body’s organs; and modify those signals to restore health using implantable devices the size of a grain of rice. Verily is contributing its expertise in device miniaturization and software.

When Galvani was created, GSK expressed the belief that the company could begin human trials within 18 months; achieve proof of concept within three years; and begin commercialization within seven years.

Source: The Motley Fool; March 14, 2017.