British pharmaceuticals giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) said it plans to team up with Verity Life Sciences, part of Google parent Alphabet, to form a spinoff dedicated to biolectronic medical treatments.
The operation, named Galvani Bioelectronics after an 18th-century pioneer in the field, is aimed at developing and commercialising miniaturised, implantable devices that can help treat chronic diseases such as arthritis, diabetes and asthma, GSK said.
GSK said it plans to hold a 55 percent stake in the operation, with Verily holding the remaining 45 percent.
Both GSK and Verily said they would contribute existing intellectual property rights and an investment of up to £540 million over seven years, subject to various discovery and development targets.
GSK said it has been investigating bioelectronic medicines with a dedicated team since 2012, while Verily has developed low-power electronic devices such as a glucose-sensing contact lens for diabetes patients and a high-tech spoon for helping those with neurodegenerative disorders to eat.
Verily, formerly Google Life Sciences, said it also plans to contribute its expertise in data analytics and software development.
GSK argued electronic devices could ultimately help correct the irregular electrical patterns found in those suffering from chronic disease.
“If successful, this approach offers the potential for a new therapeutic modality alongside traditional medicines and vaccines,” stated Moncef Slaoui, GSK’s chairman of global vaccines.
Google and Alphabet have said they have ambitious plans in the medical field, with Google co-founder Sergei Brin last year calling Verily “a huge undertaking” intended to “transform the way we detect, prevent, and manage disease”.
Verily chief executive Andrew Conrad told a health industry conference in March that the company is working with academic teaching hospitals, physicians, universities, and patient advocates to bring data into one place, saying that most medical information “isn’t easily available” and “sits around in difficult-to-crack domains”.
The efforts have proven controversial, however, with Google and the NHS facing criticism earlier this year over a pilot programme that involved providing Google artificial intelligence subsidiary DeepMind with real-time patient data at a London hospital.
A separate NHS programme called care.data that included providing medical data to third parties was shut down in July in part due to concerns over patient privacy.
Verily was initially the life sciences division of GoogleX, Google’s division devoted to long-term research and experimentation in areas including a space lift and Internet provision via high-altitude balloons.
In August 2015, Google announced that Google Life Sciences would be spun out of Google X into an independent unit, and that shift was complete in October of that year along with a broader restructure that included the formation of Google parent company Alphabet. As part of the same change GoogleX became Alphabet subsidiary X.
Google’s search and advertising business remains the core of Alphabet’s business, with Alphabet saying that its “other bets”, which include Verily, home electronic devices Nest and Google Fibre, produced revenues of only $185m (£140m) in the second quarter of 2016, with losses that grew 30 percent to $859m.
Brin said earlier this year, however, that Verily is profitable.
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