Merck KGaA in two bioelectronics deals

13th July 2021

Merck KGaA in two bioelectronics deals

Merck KGaA has announced two separate but similar multi-year collaborations in bioelectronics with European start-ups in the space of two days. Both aim to develop neurostimulators for devices that can create localised therapeutic effects in the treatment of severe chronic diseases.

Implantable neurostimulation devices can directly communicate with the nervous system by modulating electrical signals passing along nerves in the body (pictured). This ultimately helps to develop better data on diseases and to improve personalised treatment regimens.

The first agreement is with Neuroloop, a B. Braun subsidiary based in Freiburg, Germany, that makes medical technology and pharmaceutical products. Neuroloop has developed a neurostimulation platform based on a multi-channel cuff-electrode, which enables selective stimulation of specific fibres within the vagal nerve.

The aim of the collaboration is to use this platform to develop a device that can complement existing drug therapies. Merck will bring its capabilities in material science and in vivo pharmacology, plus quality, regulatory and clinical expertise in the chronic inflammatory diseases being targeted.

Initial data are expected to be available by the end of 2022, which will be used to evaluate a clinical strategy to prove safety and efficacy ahead of seeking full market approval. The two firms said that they want to explore a wide range of indications for the device, thus underlining the system’s platform character “to treat various chronic conditions using the same device by changing the software and stimulation pattern”.

With Innervia Bioelectronics, a subsidiary of Inbrain Neuroelectronics of Barcelona, Merck will work to develop next-generation reduced graphene oxide (rGO)-based bioelectronic therapies for vagus nerves. Innervia has expertise graphene interfaces, device development and signal processing for clinical applications.

The initial focus will be on inflammatory, metabolic and endocrine disorders. “Today’s agreement gives Merck access to a unique technology that … could therefore become a true enabler for digital personalised treatment of patients suffering from severe and chronic diseases,” said newly appointed CTO Laura Matz.

Merck said that rGO “offers ideal material characteristics for significantly decreasing power consumption while maintaining stimulation efficacy”. This will address some of the challenges arising from implantable devices becoming ever smarter and ever smaller, particularly energy efficiency.

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