Alphabet's Verily, GlaxoSmithKline Establish Medical Tech Firm

The two companies will invest about $715 million in Galvani Bioelectronics over next seven years to develop bioelectronic medicines.

Verily Life Sciences

Verily Life Sciences, a company owned by Google parent Alphabet, and pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline have established Galvani Bioelectronics, a firm that will focus on developing a new category of so-called bioelectronic medicines.

Under an agreement announced Aug. 1, the two companies will jointly invest around $715 million in the new venture over the next seven years.

Galvani will be headquartered in Stevenage, UK, with GSK holding a majority 55 percent stake in the company; Google will hold the remaining 45 percent. The chairman of GSK's Global Vaccines group, Moncef Slaoui, will head the new company.

Bioelectronics is an emerging field in medicine that attempts to treat certain chronic diseases such as asthma, diabetes and arthritis using tiny, implantable devices to modify electrical signals in the body. The goal is to see if the miniature devices can correct electronic signals between the body's organs and nervous system that often get distorted in chronic disease conditions. According to GSK, the company has been active in the field since 2012.

The agreement with Alphabet represents a significant step for GSK, the pharmaceutical company said in a statement announcing the new venture. Galvani brings together GSK's expertise in drug discovery, development and disease biology with Verily's strengths in areas like miniaturization of low-power electronics, software development and data analytics, the company said.

"Initial work will [center] on establishing clinical proofs of principle in inflammatory, metabolic and endocrine disorders," such as type 2 diabetes, GSK said.

Brian Otis, chief technology officer at Verily, characterized the joint venture as furthering the company's mission to deploy low-power, highly miniaturized devices in disease treatment. "We know that success will require the confluence of deep disease biology expertise and new highly miniaturized technologies," Otis said in the statement.

Galvani will initially employ about 30 scientists, clinicians and engineers. In addition to its own research, Galvani will fund and collaborate with researchers in academia and commercial R&D organizations to accelerate development of bioelectronic technologies, the two companies said.

Verily was until recently called Google Life Sciences. It is one of the many ventures Google has launched in recent years in a bid to diversify its revenue stream. Google spun off Verily into an independent business under Alphabet last year.

The company is heavily focused on developing miniature medical devices for detecting and treating a wide range of diseases. For example, researchers at Verily are seeing if they can combine the use of wearable devices and nanoparticles in the bloodstream to detect certain diseases like pancreatic cancer before other technologies can detect it.

A lot of Verily's work is being done in collaboration with major companies in the pharmaceutical industry. For example, the company is currently working with Novartis in developing a smart contact lens that will be capable of continuously monitoring glucose levels in the tears of people with diabetes. Similarly, Verily is collaborating with Johnson & Johnson on a project to develop robot-assisted surgical technologies for the operating room.

Jaikumar Vijayan

Jaikumar Vijayan

Vijayan is an award-winning independent journalist and tech content creation specialist covering data security and privacy, business intelligence, big data and data analytics.