Bioelectric Medicine Ready for Prime Time as Companies Advance Therapies
Bioelectric medicine is coming into its own as a combination or stand-alone therapy for a growing cohort of conditions. Big pharma has funded programs, international coalitions have formed and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Defense Acquisition Research Agency (DARPA) each are making sizeable research investments. The field, panelists at a recent Demy-Colton Virtual Salon agreed, holds huge promise.
Targeted delivery of energy – biomedicine – can be used to treat chronic diseases of the nervous system, inflammatory conditions, autonomic disorders and metabolic diseases. It may even be possible to treat heart conditions, oncology, pain, and gastric, urologic, and ophthalmic conditions such as chronic dry eye.
Key benefits of this approach include the lack of side effects and possibly expedited regulatory pathways. As panel moderator Beth Rogozinski, CEO, Oncoustics, noted, “We’re seeing payers with expedited pathways and payers paying for telemed and telepsych at the same rates as in-office visits.”
For biomedicine, this is the age of innovation.
At Massachusetts General Hospital, Paolo Cassano, M.D., Ph.D., co-founder Niraxx, and his team use photons of light to modulate brain function.
“This can be applied to any organ of the body. We absorb light, make energy from it, reenergize cells, and thus reestablish cellular function,” Cassano said. “The most obvious target for light is skin, but other applications include muscles, fatigue, and general health, so sports medicine is another big application.”
“Some of the treatments have effects beyond their neuromodulatory effect, for systemic and local effects,” Cassano said.
He specifically noted neuro-oxidative, anti-apoptotic and anti-inflammatory effects. This suggests that bioelectric therapies may control the excess of reactivity of the body and contain the most lethal consequences of an infection and its processes.
Cala Health, in another example, is developing a wearable, watch-like device to address essential tremor in Parkinson’s and other neurodegenerative disease.
“This is found in the hand, voice or legs of patients and affects their ability for self-care,” Renee Ryan, CEO, Cala Health, explained.
The therapeutic options today are surgery or off-label drugs.
“We believe a lot of the disease is influenced by the median nerve, so we have a watch-like device that provides stimulation to the radial and median nerves at the wrist. A 40-minute treatment resulted in an average of more than 94 minutes of tremor relief,” she added. “We usually see the onset of relief after about 10 minutes, and one patient achieved seven hours of relief after an early morning session.”
By relieving tremors, she said she expects to also reduce patients’ depression and anxiety.
Improving cognition is another area of great need. This includes improving patients’ memory and retention as well as executive function.
“With an aging population, we need to keep workforce performance up. There’s also the issue of preventing dementia and mild cognitive impairment,” Cassano said.
For COVID-19, biomedicine offers the ability to modulate inflammation, and thus may help control or prevent the cytokine storm and caustic inflammation. Developmental disorders, such as Down’s syndrome can be addressed, too.
“If we can intervene early, some of these patients may develop their cognitive function to enjoy a fuller, productive, more joyful life.
“This is a very exciting time for this industry,” Casanno said. “Patients are desperate for new solutions,” for diseases that have no treatments or no disease-modifying treatments.
Bioelectric medicine differs from biofeedback, panelists pointed out. Neurofeedback is about sensing what’s happening in the brain so people can modify their behavior. Bioelectric therapy, in contrast, temporarily modifies the brain function.
That safety profile lends itself to a potentially faster commercialization pathway.
“If there is good scientific data and regulatory support, and the therapy isn’t invasive, there’s an advantage,” said Juan-Pablo Mas, partner, Action Potential Venture Capital.
Bioelectronic therapies “will have various places in the treatment paradigm, such as being used in combination therapies, replacing drugs, filling therapeutic gaps, proving unique mechanisms of action and catching patients earlier in the disease when surgery isn’t an option,” Mas said. “All will have effects in terms of how disease is treated.”
They have a place in wellness also, where they are not regulated.
“That’s a big opportunity,” Cassano said. But, “Once you know a person actually is suffering from a disorder, the disease itself requires monitoring,” he cautioned.
“Medicine is shifting towards prevention. That should be our goal,” Cassano said. “So capitalizing on the wellness side is critical, preventing wear and tear of brain that lead to onset of diseases.”
As in so many things today, “The new normal won’t be the old normal,” Rogozinski concluded.