Google parent company Alphabet has picked up a new moonshot project: fighting illnesses using electrical signals instead of medicine.  

Verily, the company's life sciences arm, has joined forces with pharmaceutical giant GSK to form a new venture called Galvani Bioelectronics. 

Bioelectronics, which GSK has been quietly working on since 2012, is an experimental branch of science that supposedly works by changing electrical signals within the body. A small device, about the size of a grain of rice, is wrapped around a nerve. In the case of a patient with diabetes, for example, the device could tell the body to produce more insulin. It's believed that the method can also help treat diseases like asthma and arthritis.

"We have had really promising results in animal tests, where we've shown we can address some chronic diseases with this mechanism," Kris Famm, GSK's head of bioelectronic research and Galvani's president, told Reuters, "and now we are bringing that work into the clinic."

Together, Verily and GSK will invest about $715 million into the new company over the next seven years. GSK will own 55 percent of the new firm, and Verily the rest. Galvani Bioelectronics has stated a goal of submitting its treatment for regulatory approval by 2023, according to Reuters.

Galvani's initial team will include about 30 scientists and engineers, with an office outside London and another in San Francisco. 

Verily, once called Google Life Sciences, also includes Google's project to create a solar-powered contact lens that detects things like blood-sugar and alcohol levels. It was born in the Google X lab, which houses the company's long-term, ambitious moonshot projects.

These projects, collectively referred to as Alphabet's "Other Bets," lost $859 million last quarter, although Verily was one of three moonshot ventures (along with Nest and Google Fiber) to actually earn revenue. Google co-founder and Alphabet president Sergey Brin said in April that Verily is already profitable.

Extremely secretive, the 400-person Verily doesn't reveal revenue numbers or the names of its board members. (In March, Recode estimated Verily's annual sales at under $10 million.) The company came under fire earlier this year when an article in Stat, the Boston Globe's medical publication, featured several former employees criticizing the "divisive and impulsive" leadership of Andy Conrad, its CEO. According to the piece, Verily's current projects are often hidden from current employees, and Conrad is known to dismiss ideas from associates by saying the company is already secretly working on them. 

This isn't the first time Verily has teamed up with another company to pursue a moonshot goal. In December, the firm announced it was partnering with Johnson & Johnson to form Verb Surgical, a company developing robots that can help perform surgeries.

Published on: Aug 2, 2016