For decades, billions of dollars have been invested in drug development based on biology and chemistry. But this is changing. Drug development of the future is exploiting the electrical grid in our bodies to attack disease.This is good news for millions of patients who can look to a future without pills.
Healing the body through electronics is not new, but the goal of current research is to utilize the peripheral nervous system that exists in the body, outside of the brain center. This information highway, so to speak, controls the function of all the organs in the body. Along the network, zillions of motor and sensory signals are zooming along monitoring developments in the body, communicating with each other and regulating organ and brain function. Researchers seek to develop implantable devices, roughly the size of a grain of rice that will be attached to peripheral nerves to read, analyze, and modulate the electrical impulses passing along the peripheral nervous system so that diseases such as arthritis, diabetes, asthma, and high blood pressure, can be treated.
Pharmaceutical industry leader GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), is one of the chief pioneers in the effort to develop bioelectronics. In spite of more than $33 billion in revenue from the sales of pills, vaccines and other ‘traditional’ chemical drug therapies, GSK leaders see their future in harnessing the body’s electronic grid. Electroceuticals are targeted, and will not produce the side effects experienced from chemical drug therapies.
GSK is investing significant funds to develop devices that will speak the ‘native’ tongue of nerve cells, analyze neuron transmissions and disrupt, so to speak, out of whack transmissions that result in damaged cells and disease. GSK’s work began in 2013 and researchers are now preparing to begin clinical trials that will use implanted bioelectronics devices to address three undisclosed diseases. According to Moncef Slaoui, executive at GSK, the trials will begin next year and are slated to yield results in three years.
A significant amount of federal money has been funding research through such programs as ‘Electrical Prescriptions’, administered by DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and a National Institute of Health initiative called ‘Stimulating Peripheral Activity to Relieve Conditions’. Looking forward into the future, DARPA scientists hope that bioelectronic medicines can be used in the brain to control abnormal molecular activity that is known to cause neurological diseases, such as Alzheimer’s.