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GlaxoSmithKline Crowdsourcing Bioelectronic Research Ideas

Neuron illustration (NIH)

(National Institute on Aging, NIH)

The pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) is seeking research ideas from the global scientific community to better understand the body’s neural signaling mechanisms to discover therapies that harness these mechanisms. The company is also mounting a separate competition through InnoCentive to identify a specific disease to serve as a proof-of-principle test for potential neural signaling solutions.

GSK unveiled this week in the journal Nature (paid subscription required), a new initiative to discover drugs that take advantage of electrical impulses sent as neural signals. The company aims to use this knowledge to develop medicines it calls electroceuticals that control biological processes generating or responding to these signals.

A major part of the project is an exploratory research program that better describe the science behind electroceuticals. GSK says it plans to fund up to 40 researchers at 20 separate labs to define the types of disorders affected by malfunctioning electric signals, focusing on specific peripheral nerves. Other ideas sought by GSK include better identification of neural stimulation patterns or biomarkers in existing disease models to distinguish them from healthy signaling functions. In addition. the company is seeking new technologies and designs for peripheral nerve interfaces.

GSK is accepting proposals through the rest of 2013 that would address a single hypothesis for study by one or two investigators. Initial outlines of ideas should be no longer than two pages, which the company will review with outside experts to select the most promising proposals. Funding amounts for the exploratory research program have not yet been announced.

GSK also established a separate challenge competition through InnoCentive (free registration required), an open-innovation and crowdsourcing firm, to identify a specific disorder that can serve as a proof-of-principle test for electroceutical solutions. The challenge has a total purse of $5,000 and a deadline of 11 May 2013 for proposals.

Participants in the challenge should submit a written proposal of no more than three pages describing a proof-of-principle test of neural signaling mechanisms to address a specific disease. InnoCentive says the challenge has a guaranteed award, which means the total purse will be awarded with no prize smaller than $1,000. By submitting a proposal, participants agree to grant GSK a royalty-free, perpetual, and non-exclusive license to use any information in their proposals.

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