British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline will increase its focus on bioelectronic medicines with a new venture capital fund, mandated to invest in companies developing the so-called "medicines of the future".
The $50m (£32m, €37m) fund - called Action Potential Venture Capital - will complement the work of GSK's bioelectronics research division, created last year. It will invest in five to seven companies over the next five years, GSK said in a statement on Thursday.
Britain's biggest drugmaker hopes to have the first medicine that "speaks the electrical language of the [human] body" ready for approval by 2020.
The fund's first investment would be in SetPoint Medical, a US-based firm developing small implantable devices to treat inflammatory diseases, such as inflammatory bowel disease and rheumatoid arthritis.
Bioelectronic medicine refers to tiny implants capable of emitting electrical impulses to treat various diseases. These implants can read patterns of electronic signals in nerves, which can be irregular in patients suffering from a disease.
"We want to help create the medicines of the future and be the catalyst for this work," said Moncef Slaoui, chairman of R&D and the architect of GSK's early stage investment strategy.
"GSK can play the integrating role that is needed to drive this new type of medical treatment all the way from the bench to the patient and this fund is a key part of our efforts," he said.
The venture fund will be based in the US, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Bioelectronic medicine is not entirely new. Electrical devices such as heart pacemakers have been used for many years. Electrical stimulation has been used to treat Parkinson's disease and some neurological disorders.
GSK investigation in China
GSK has been facing investigation in China into alleged malpractice by its executives.
China's Ministry of Public Security has accused unnamed GSK executives of routing 3bn yuan (£324m, €375m, $489m) in bribes to doctors through 700 travel agencies and consultancies over six years.
GSK admitted that some Chinese executives appeared to have broken the law, but CEO Andrew Witty said that their head office had no prior knowledge about the wrongdoing.
In a bid to repair its tainted image in connection with the scandal, the company appointed Herve Gisserot, senior vice-president for Europe, as the new chief of its China operations.
He replaces Mark Reilly as general manager of China operations.