Merck KGaA, Inbrain take aim at chronic illness with smart neurostimulators

Merck KGaA announced Thursday a collaboration with startup Innervia Bioelectronics, a subsidiary of Inbrain Neuroelectronics, to co-develop the next generation of graphene-based bioelectronic vagus nerve therapies targeting severe chronic diseases. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Jurriaan Baker, Innervia's chief technology officer, explained that the bioelectronic therapies will use "minimally invasive technologies and precise signal coding, enabled by graphene." Meanwhile, Laura Matz, chief science and technology officer at Merck, said the agreement "gives our company access to a unique technology that increases energy efficiency in neurostimulators and could therefore become a true enabler for digital personalised treatment."

Under the partnership, Innervia will apply its expertise in graphene interfaces, device development and signal processing for clinical applications. Initial work will focus on inflammatory, metabolic and endocrine disorders, using graphene for "miniaturisation, precision and high modulation efficiency in the vagus nerve," Merck said. The company added it is "well-equipped" with its bioelectronics research facilities and "can build on its data science, clinical, regulatory and quality expertise to bring novel devices to patients in the near future."

Overcoming power supply dilemma

Merck predicted that aside from getting smaller, neurostimulation devices are also expected to become "increasingly smart" due to additional features such as continuous readouts, data analysis and transmission, trends it says pose "significant challenges" when it comes to supplying power to these devices. "Reduced graphene oxide offers ideal material characteristics for significantly decreasing power consumption while maintaining stimulation efficacy," the company said, noting that Innervia's technology "harnesses the power of graphene."

Merck said the collaboration marks its second in the bioelectronics innovation field. Last month, the company forged an alliance with B. Braun subsidiary neuroloop to develop a neurostimulator device that complements drug therapies for chronic inflammatory diseases. 

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