What's going on?
The way that diseases get treated in the future might involve electrical signals rather than chemical drugs – and UK pharmaceuticals giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) has teamed up with a division of Alphabet (Google’s parent company) to help make that a reality.
What does this mean?
Most treatments for diseases involve chemicals, like a drug taken orally or an inhaler used for asthma. Bioelectronics, instead, aims to manipulate the electric signals that the brain sends to the body’s organs via a small device that’s inserted near the relevant organ. It’s sort of like a pacemaker for your brain signals – but the device is a lot smaller and more complicated (e.g. it will be able to transmit signals back to a monitor). The plan is to combine Google’s expertise in engineering small, wireless electronic devices with GSK’s medical expertise.
Why should I care?
For stocks: This is how Alphabet’s “bets” can pay off.
Alphabet, like some of the other major tech companies, spends a lot of money trying to develop new business lines. It’s far from certain that this new venture will be successful enough to make a difference to Alphabet’s profits – but if bioelectronics does revolutionize medicine, then Alphabet will be well placed to profit from it. That’s the sort of outcome that Alphabet and others aim for when they invest in new areas that are far removed from their core businesses (e.g. search engines).
For you personally: This could be the future of medicine.
The person in charge of bioelectronics at GSK says it could eventually become a bigger industry than pharmaceuticals (a.k.a. the current drug industry). The initial aim appears to be to target chronic diseases that affect a large number of people, like diabetes and asthma. The result could be longer, healthier lives for everyone.