Bioelectronics R&D

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The functions and organ systems of our body are, to a significant extent, controlled by electrical signals that travel along the nerves. Bioelectronic medicines will aim to control biological processes and treat disease by modulating these electrical impulses.

They will be minaturised devices that connect to specific groups of neurons or their nerve fibres and modulate the electrical signalling patterns, to restore the healthy states of targeted organs and functions.

We believe bioelectronic medicines could allow us to address some diseases that have so far been untreatable, and others with greater precision and fewer side effects than with conventional molecular medicines.

Funding research into bioelectronics

As a sign of our commitment to this new field of research, we have put in place multiple mechanisms to activate and integrate the research community around the fundamental challenges of developing these new treatments.

For example, through our exploratory funding programme, we are currently funding 33 research projects across more than 25 institutions, which will begin to detail how nerves in the body are related to particular diseases. This will allow us to start to understand the firing patterns of those nerves, and to begin to explore new technologies that will enable us to interface with these nerve fibres. 

Through our $50m venture capital arm, Action Potential Venture Capital, we are investing in start-ups and technology platofrms that aim to advance the development of bioelectronic medicines.

We have also launched an exciting opportunity for external investigators to contribute to the development of a miniaturized, implantable, wireless, visceral nerve pre-clinical research platform. A $5m fund to back academics and companies seeking to solve this challenge is open for application for phase 1 funding during October-November 2014. In addition, the first team to demonstrate full functionality of their device according to specified criteria will be awarded a $1m prize.

You can find out more about the Bioelectronics R&D we are already doing in this commentary article (PDF) published in the scientific journal Nature.

Together with the emerging bioelectronics community we also recently published a roadmap which will enable this vision to become a reality.

The GSK Bioelectronics R&D currently has 33 fully funded projects across 26 institutions in 9 countries. We are continuing to fund new research efforts with a focus on:

  • Neural signal analysis for recording datasets
  • Higher-resolution interfacing for the targeted disease nerves
  • Circuit mapping/tracing where proof of principle is achieved in disease-focused projects currently under way

Teams who have interests in these areas should contact the GSK team who will then be in touch to jointly assess whether it’s appropriate to develop a project funding proposal. Funded projects during 2013 and 2014 all went through multiple iterations together with the GSK team prior to a funding agreement and project start.

Goals of the programme

  • Help principal investigators (PIs) around the world swiftly initiate research in areas that could underpin future bioelectronic medicines
  • To develop a global network of PIs who work collaboratively with each other and GSK  
  • Help GSK Bioelectronics R&D explore the potential of this emerging area

Criteria for selection

The key criteria any proposal will be assessed against are:

  • Significance of the hypothesis judged against the outlined research objectives
  • Feasibility that the hypothesis can be successfully tested with the proposed research plan
  • The ability of the principal investigator, collaborators, employees, and institution to successfully test the proposed hypothesis
  • How the project complements other projects we are funding or considering funding

Funding amounts

There isn’t a set amount to be awarded. The intent is to fund work on a single hypothesis that can be assessed by up to two full time researchers (or the equivalent in time spend by more researchers) over a twelve month period.

Submit a proposal

Teams who have interests in the areas outlined above should email the GSK team.

On December 18 2013, we announced the launch of the Innovation Challenge in the emerging area of bioelectronic medicines research, which seeks to accelerate the development of a crucial pre-clinical research platform.

This page provides information about the Challenge and offers a high level view of the criteria that need to be satisfied to solve the challenge. Solving the challenge will be a major contribution to the development of a new generation of treatments for major diseases with significant patient needs. GSK is offering a $1m prize to the first team to solve the challenge to help accelerate this important work. If you would like more detail about the scientific criteria for the challenge, or the rules for taking part, please register your interest here.

Overview

The goal of this Innovation Challenge is to advance research into bioelectronic medicines by addressing the broad need to interrogate neural signals in visceral nerves. The challenge itself is to generate a miniaturised, implantable wireless device that can chronically record, stimulate and block functionally-specific neural signals to and from a specific visceral organ in functional models. The research team to first create a device that satisfies a set of success criteria in one out of the four stipulated biological systems, will be awarded the $1m prize. Such a device not only will solve a major hurdle for bioelectronic medicines research, but will also accelerate the technology development that may go into future bioelectronic medicines and be at the centre of new ventures.

At the Bioelectronics Medicines Summit in December 2013, 140 leading investigators and research funders recognised the challenge of creating an implantable device that can in pre-clinical research read, write and erase/attenuate the body’s electrical language as the most catalytic to the progression of bioelectronic medicines.

Mechanics

Solving the challenge will require interdisciplinary capabilities, most likely provided by research groups with deep animal physiology expertise collaborating with device labs, start-ups and design firms. Where possible, GSK will play an active role in bringing interested parties together.

It is up to the team of solvers to choose the technical path to solve the challenge, including the neural interface approach (eg electrical, optical, ultrasonic, electromagnetic), the powering approach (eg battery, induction, or energy harvesting), and the wireless information transfer approach.

GSK Bioelectronics R&D will award the $1m prize to the team that first demonstrates a solution that has met a specific set of success criteria confirmed by an independent panel of experts. There are additional benefits of participating in the challenge, including  ownership and control of the intellectual property that provide a starting point for bioelectronic medicines and a revenue stream from the commercialisation of the platform. Moreover, GSK will seek to invest in key technology components deemed essential elements of future bioelectronic medicines, irrespective of winning the award.

This is a prize for a demonstrated solution. Teams should draw on normal sources of research funding for their work towards such a demonstration. The GSK Bioelectronics Exploratory Research Funding Programme is open for applications for aspects of this work. The GSK Innovation Challenge team will also keep those working on the Challenge informed of new funding opportunities in this space as they become available.

Success criteria

GSK’s Bioelectronics R&D team has worked together with a group of subject matter experts to define the following detailed success criteria, building on high-level specifications for the device and its functionality:

Download the success criteria (PDF)

Innovation Challenge Fund

In addition to the $1m prize announced in December 2013, GSK has created a $5m Innovation Challenge Fund (ICF) in order to fund teams participating in the challenge. Funding will be distributed in two phases. The Design and De-risk Stage (phase 1) will fund initial work to de-risk key components and generate detailed plans for the development of an integrated device that meets the Innovation Challenge criteria. Once this has been successfully achieved, an Integrate and Test Stage (phase 2) will develop the complete platform and seek to generate the data package that meets the Innovation Challenge success criteria. Up to ten teams will be backed with phase 1 funding, but at most three would be selected for funding in phase 2. Phase 1 funding will be provided up to the level of $200k per team, including direct and federally negotiated indirect costs. This phase will be limited to six months of work during the first six months of 2015, with data to be reported out at the conclusion of that period. Up to three solution teams will selected for phase 2 funding for up to $1m each, after comparing the data and detailed plans developed during the first stage.

Phase 1: Design and de-risk stage

This phase will be limited to six months of work during the period of 1 January to 30 June 2015. This will be aimed at de-risking aspects of the platform design and planning for full system development and testing. The report at the end of this phase is the evidence base on which the committee will judge whether the proposed development path to an integrated device is viable and GSK will make phase 2 funding decisions. It is up to the team to define the de-risking package of work, which could include the nerve interface, interconnection between the front and back end, electronics for recording, stimulation, block, powering and data telemetry, fabrication, and biocompatibility/reliability testing. The report should include the key results of experimental work in phase 1 as well as a detailed plan and budget for phase 2 (provided the team still wants to be considered for phase II funding). Teams will be free to change members and adjust their overall approach before submitting a phase 2 application. Teams that are unsuccessful in securing funding from the ICF are still welcome to participate in the challenge.

After a rigorous review of 25 applications from across the globe, in December 2014 ten teams were selected for phase 1 support from the Innovation Challenge Fund.
The selected teams are:

  1. Robert Shepherd (Bionics Institute, Melbourne, Australia), John Furness (Melbourne Medical School, University of Melbourne, Australia),  Janet Keast (Melbourne Medical School, University of Melbourne, Australia), James Fallon (Bionics Institute, Melbourne, Australia), Natalie James (School of Biomedical Engineering, University of New South), Kostas Hazianestis (EC and Associates Pty Ltd, Australia), Zoran Mijasavic (EC and Associates Pty Ltd, Australia),  Edmond Capcelea (Team leader: EC and Associates Pty Ltd, Australia)

  2. Tim Gardner (Boston University) and Bryan McLaughlin (Team leader: Micro-Leads Inc)

  3.  Stuart Cogan (University of Texas, Dallas), Silvia Conde (CEDOC, NOVA Medical School, Portugal), Philip Troyk (Illinois Institute of Technology and Sigenics Inc), Glenn DeMichele (Sigenics Inc) and Mario Romero-Ortega (Team Leader: University of Texas, Dallas)

  4. Robert Gereau (Washington University in St Louis), Stephen Lewis (Case Western) and John Rogers (Team Leader: University of Illinois)

  5. Daniel Freeman, Andrew Czarnecki, T.S. Sriram and Anil Achyuta (Team Leader: Draper Laboratory)

  6. Vassiliki Giagka (University College London, UCL); Andreas Demosthenous (UCL), Dai Jiang (UCL); Alejandro Carnicer (Cambridge University), Sam Hilton (Cambridge University), James Fawcett (Cambridge University), and Nick Donaldson (Team Leader: UCL)

  7. Stéphanie Lacour (EPFL Lausanne, Switzerland) , Qing Wang (Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Vaudois (CHUV), Lausanne, Switzerland), and Qiuting Huang (Team Leader: ETH Zurich)

  8. Yen Shih Cheng, Gawin Dawe, Angelo H All, Einar Wilder-Smith, Vincent Lee Chengkuo, Percy Luu, Sudip Nag, Rangarajan Jegadeesan, Ng Kian Ann, Srinivasu V Puttaswamy, Elliot Greenwald, Sanghoon Lee, Anoop Patil and Zhuolin Xinag, Nitish Thakor (Team Leader: SINAPSE, University of Singapore)

  9. Polina Anikeeva (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Joshua Smith, (University of Washington), Bingni Brunton (University of Washington), Greg Horwitz (University of Washington) and Chet Moritz (Team Leader: University of Washington)

  10. Kenneth O (UTD), Dane Grasse (UTD); Seth Hays (UTD), Alexandra Joshi-Imre (UTD), Xiling Tang (UTD); Wooyeol Choi (UTD), Terry Sculley (Texas Instruments), Wei-Yan Shih (Texas Instruments), Leonardo Estavez (Texas Instruments), Robert Rennaker & Walter Voit (Team Leader: University of Texas, Dallas).

Phase 2: Integrate and Test stage

After review of the phase 1 reports, up to three teams will be selected for funding in the Integrate and Test Stage, which will result in an additional $1m funding for each selected team. Teams are encouraged to build in go/no go milestones in their phase 2 plans. The phase 2 funding call will also be open to registered teams who have not received phase 1 funding. Teams not selected for phase 2 funding are welcome to continue their work towards solving the Challenge, but must do so drawing on alternative sources of funding, for which their phase 1 data may be helpful in securing.

Solving the innovation challenge

During any point of the two funding stages, a team can submit a solution dossier for the $1m prize provided they believe they have adequately met all the success criteria of the Challenge. We anticipate that teams need to complete phase 2 within 12 months in order to have a good chance to be first to meet all the success criteria and be awarded the $1m prize. Committed and contracted phase 2 funding will not cease if another team solves the challenge. However, if the Challenge solved before phase 2 funding decisions are made, GSK retains the right to refocus or cancel phase 2.

Eligibility

The Innovation Challenge Fund has been created to accelerate the development of the research platform by addressing the resourcing needs of academics and small businesses  to participate in the challenge. Therefore, any academic or small business is eligible to apply irrespective of the affiliation of other members of their solution team. It’s worth noting that this provides a vehicle through which larger technology companies can share costs with GSK in bringing forward research platforms and technology development, by contributing in-house resource and expertise in collaboration with ICF funded academics and small businesses.

Interested parties are encouraged to register on the innovation portal in order to access additional information on the proposed schedule of the Innovation Challenge Fund, the application guidelines and forms.

Intellectual property and access

GSK will not require rights to intellectual property (IP) covering the output of the Innovation Challenge as a pre-condition of the $1m prize acceptance.  Acceptance of the prize will require, among other things, that the Innovation Challenge winner (or the entity that owns or controls the relevant IP) release all relevant research data and information into the public domain, but only after such parties have been given the opportunity to protect rights for future commercial application. This public release of data and design will allow other investigators, including those at GSK, the right to utilise the work for future research purposes while permitting the Innovation Challenge winner (or the entity that owns or controls the relevant IP) to retain commercial rights.

The Innovation Challenge award could be shared between individuals and/or entities owning/controlling IP as such individual and/or entity may agree. Such an agreement would need to be provided to GSK no later than with the investigator documentation contained in the final submission materials.

Individuals considering working toward a submission are encouraged to promptly speak with the designated technology transfer or intellectual property office at their institution/company/IP about the steps required by them to participate.

Participating parties will need to register with GSK prior to submission and are encouraged to register as soon as possible to always receive the latest information about the Challenge. 

Interested parties and contact

Parties interested in learning more should visit the Bioelectronic Medicines Research website  to express their interest. Upon expressing interest, investigators will be requested to submit their name, institution, a brief description of relevant, current research (including top five relevant publications), plus a 250-word non-confidential description of what capabilities they are considering to bring to the challenge. In exchange for providing this information, GSK will provide eligible investigators access to the Innovation Challenge web portal where additional information can be accessed on the process, detailed criteria, and legal terms.

If you have any questions, please contact rd.bioelectronics-innovation-prize@gsk.com

Disclaimer note

This announcement is not an exhaustive list of future and final terms and conditions.  Release of these preliminary terms does not constitute a binding commitment from GSK to provide funding or an award to any party.  No award would be made until GSK performs appropriate due diligence in the submission (both technical and regarding legal/IP rights) and until agreements are signed during the later submission and award acceptance processes.  Such agreements will include acknowledgement of GSK policies including but not limited to data integrity, animal welfare, anti-bribery/corruption, and standard IP representations and warranties. The terms of the competition may be modified as needed to comply with relevant state and national laws.  The competition is not open where prohibited by law. More information on these policies will be made available in coming weeks on this website and with the full agreements.

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