Bioelectronic Medicine Players Present at Biotech Showcase

by JoJo Platt, senior contributing editor

January 2023 issue, BioElectRx Business Report

The year 2023 started with a bang, as thousands of healthcare industry professionals descended on San Francisco for the annual J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference. A number of other healthcare industry conferences take place during the same time, including the Sachs Neuroscience Investment Forum and the Biotech Showcase.

Traditionally, these January meetings in San Francisco focus on pharmaceutical investment opportunities, but a relatively new focus on medical devices and neuromodulation has emerged. The Biotech Showcase packs enough punch to be a stand-alone conference. The organizers assembled more than 900 investors, 400 company presenters, and 3,000 attendees from around the world. A track dedicated to Digital Medicine and Medtech featured a session called “Bioelectronic Medicine: Electrifying Investor Interest,” which was organized by Neurotech Reports. BBR editor James Cavuoto served as moderator, and panelists included Carolina Aguilar, CEO of INBRAIN Neuroelectronics, Imran Eba, Partner with Action Potential Venture Capital, Victor Pikov, CEO of Medipace, and Susan Schaeffer, president and CEO of The Patients’ Academy for Research Advocacy.

Cavuoto highlighted the aims of the session and offered an examination of the market for bioelectronic medicine. He discussed opportunities for investors and entrepreneurs as well as the factors that will influence success in the coming months and years. There are several interpretations and definitions of the term “bioelectronic medicine.” The moderator elected to use the NIH’s definition for the purposes of the panel discussion, referring to stimulation, or neural modulation that affects an end organ, as opposed to traditional neuromodulation, which is involved with CNS disorders, using nerve and organ stimulation to achieve therapeutic effects. Using this definition as a guideline, the Neurotech Reports’ publisher highlighted that the bioelectronic medicine market, which currently stands at about $8 billion, is expected to grow to over $18 billion market by 2027. As with any nascent field, the definition and the market opportunity has evolved and will continue to evolve.

Eba, in his overview of the history of APVC from the perspective of its funding sponsor, GSK, described the early investment motivator and opportunity as the ability to develop and miniaturize devices, make those devices wearable, and to run high quality, and to sponsor clinical level trials generating evidence of significant impact.

Aguilar, the voice of the European R&D community operating in this space, highlighted INBRAIN’s recent partnership with Merck, KGaA to advance the applications of graphene, a material of such potential impact that its inventors were awarded a Nobel Prize in 2010. Aguilar’s vision for the project is to bring graphene to market and leverage its unique properties within the area of medical device development to connect the central and peripheral nervous systems.

Pikov suggested that the field of bioelectronic medicine is at an inflection point. He noted that we are moving from macro to micro fabrication, which allows for significant device miniaturization. Pikov additionally pointed to the significant unmet needs representing millions of patients around the world who are drug refractory; these patients have already been failed by the drug and biotech industries—sometimes even multiple biologics. “I’d like to posit that even though the bioelectronic medicine market is relatively small,” said Pikov, “it will kind of explode in the next 10 years to reach about $30 billion—once we have enough small cuff technologies, smaller IPGs, better surgical methods, and many other innovations which we are currently developing.”

Schaeffer, in addition to her role at The Patients’ Academy for Research Advocacy, is the former editor of BioCentury and knows her way around the pharmaceutical and device sectors. After leaving BioCentury, she helped launch this publication in 2021 as a consulting editor. Her current focus has been to provide education and training services to patients and advocates to empower and prepare them to engage with the drug and device development communities to provide their lived experience as a way of improving the R&D process. Her depth of understanding has offered her a unique perspective toward the activity of our field. “There were many years after GSK’s initial investments (APVC as well as Galvani—with partner Google) before we saw another pharma player make that leap, and now we see Merck KGaA, and also Astellas Pharmaceutical. I think we may be at a point where we’re about to see interest from pharma increase and the first obvious space is in the drug refractory patients that Victor mentioned,” she said.

The culminating theme of the session was clearly the intersection of the pharmaceutical firms with bioelectronic medicine concerns. “I think that the classic sort of markets where we are going to win early, is markets where even the drug players recognize that energy is a driver of that disease,” said Eba. He continued to highlight the chance for common ground between devices and pharmaceutical markets will be BEMs focus on and understanding of the mechanisms of action behind its targets.