Bioelectronics

Overview

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 micro-scale devices that connect to groups of individual neurons or their nerve fibres and modulate the electrical signalling patterns, to restore the healthy status quo of specific 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 are offering several incentives 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 offering up to 20 new research grants for investigators to begin detailing how nerves in the body are related to particular diseases, to understand the firing patterns of those nerves, and to explore new technologies that will enable us to interface with these nerve fibres. 

Through our US$50 million 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 research platform. The first team to demonstrate full functionality of their device according to specified criteria will be awarded a US$1 million 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.

Exploratory funding programme

In 2013, the GSK Bioelectronics R&D unit agreed with 15 academic groups across the world to enter exploratory research projects. We are continuing to expand the Exploratory Funding Programme to new groups during the first half of 2014 with funding decisions occurring on a rolling basis after a one-month review and approval process.

Goals of the programme

  • Help principal investigators (PIs) around the world swiftly initiate research in areas that could underpin future bioelectronic medicines
  • Allow GSK and a network of PIs to get to know each other through actual work over the course of a year 
  • Help GSK Bioelectronics R&D explore the potential of this emerging area

Specific research objectives

The programme focus in 2014 is on research that contributes to one of the following three objectives:

1. Visceral nerve interfacing – explore new technologies and designs for precision recording, stimulation and blocking. An eligible project should test a concept for improved resolution and/or reduced neural damage by which compound and/or unit signal in visceral peripheral nerves can be recorded and modulated. Approaches could include both new form factors and new paradigms to “read and write” into peripheral points of neural circuits. Approaches to the different anatomies of visceral nerves are welcome: multifascicular bundles, monofascicular small nerves, plexi and ganglia. The exploratory work should pave the way for use of such interfacing technology in rodent models.

2. Therapeutic feasibility – explore the degree to which major organs and disease may be under neural circuit control.An eligible project should explore a disease where neural control is hypothesised, seeking to establish a) the areas of the nervous system that makes up the control circuit with focus on specific visceral peripheral nerves, and b) the effect this circuit excerpts on the disease. Neural imaging, recording, blocking, or stimulation could be used in animal models. 

3. Disease signatures – establish correlation between neural signaling patterns and markers of organ function/disease.An eligible project should bring state-of the art neural signal analysis and to other efforts in the Exploratory Research Network that generate neural recording data. Alternatively, it could use established disease models, biomarkers, and neural probes to derive key characteristics of disease signatures and future treatment codes. Experiments could include signal analysis in health vs. disease, detection of change in signaling patterns during disease progression, comparison of unit, fascicle and whole-nerve recordings, and creation of optimal stimulation patterns based on recorded data.

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 one to two individuals over a 12 month period.

Submit a proposal

We encourage you to discuss your idea with the GSK Bioelectronics R&D team at an early stage. Agreed projects during 2013 all went through multiple iterations together with the GSK team prior to a successful funding decision. You can contact the team at rd.bioelectronics-proposals@gsk.com.

You can also access guidance documents for proposal and budget breakdown to support your planning:

Proposal guidance (PDF)

Budget guidance (PDF)

Process and timelines

Million Dollar Investment Programme

On December 18 2013, we announced a $1 million prize for the first to solve an innovation challenge in the emerging area of bioelectronic medicines research. This page carries information about the nature of the challenge and offers a high level view of the criteria that need to be satisfied to solve the challenge and receive the associated US$1 million prize.

If you would like to read 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 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 read and write 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 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 chose 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 (to be announced).

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)

Intellectual property and access

GSK will not require first or exclusive 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 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 once registration is available at this site.  For more information, please check back on or after March 3rd.

Interested parties and contact

Parties interested in learning more should visit the Bioelectronic Medicines Research website from 28 March 2014 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 overall 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.