GlaxoSmithKline has announced the launch of Cambridge, Mass.-based Action Potential Venture Capital (APVC), a $50 million strategic venture capital fund that will invest in companies that pioneer bioelectronic medicines and technologies.
APVC intends to build a portfolio of five to seven companies over the next five years. The fund will focus investments in three areas: startup companies that aim to pursue the vision of bioelectronic medicines; existing companies with technologies interacting with the peripheral nervous system through first-generation devices that can stimulate or block electrical impulses; and companies advancing technology platforms that will underpin these treatment modalities.
The fund complements the work of GSK’s Bioelectronics R&D unit, which was established in 2012 after a two-year effort to seek out and engage the most promising researchers in this emerging area of science. The name of the fund comes from electrical signals called action potentials that pass along the nerves in the body. Irregular or altered patterns of these impulses may occur in association with a broad range of diseases.
GSK believes miniaturized devices, or bioelectronic medicines, can be designed to read these patterns. The devices could be designed to interface between the peripheral nervous system and specific organs to read, change or generate electronic impulses that help treat disorders as diverse as inflammatory bowel disease or rheumatoid arthritis; respiratory diseases such as asthma and COPD; and metabolic diseases including type 2 diabetes.
The field of bioelectronic medicines is in its very early stages. GSK’s ambition, through collaboration with scientists globally, is to have the first medicine that speaks the electrical language of our body ready for approval by the end of this decade.
“We want to help create the medicines of the future and be the catalyst for this work,” said Moncef Slaoui, chairman of R&D and architect of GSK’s early stage investment strategy. “GSK can play the integrating role that is needed to drive this new type of medical treatment all the way from the bench to the patient, and this fund is a key part of our efforts.”
The fund’s first investment will be in SetPoint Medical, a California company creating implantable devices to treat inflammatory diseases. SetPoint Medical is developing a highly novel and potentially transformative approach to treat inflammatory diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease, by using implantable devices that stimulate the body’s vagus nerve. The treatments have been developed based on new understanding that the immune system can be influenced by the nervous system; inflammatory diseases were previously thought to be accessible only by molecular medicines. In addition, GSK believes SetPoint’s new proprietary miniaturized device has important hallmarks of future bioelectronic medicines.
In addition, the unit is offering up to 20 new exploratory research grants and creating a network of investigators. Discovery work has begun on the relationship between the nerves in the body and a range of diseases, the particular pattern of impulses along these nerves and new technologies that can interface with individual nerve fibers. The unit is also seeking to integrate a broader research community and is engaging with other major funding and research organizations interested in the field.
“The Action Potential Venture Capital fund is the third strand in our approach to galvanizing a new research community,” Imran said. “Together, these three mechanisms will contribute to bolster an ecosystem in which exploratory research as well as product translation is supported, and from which we expect a major wave of new medicines to emerge and benefit patients in future decades.”