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Merck and INBRAIN Neuroelectronics Collaborate to Develop the Next Generation of Bioelectronic Therapies

Innovation Center project of Merck collaborates to develop smart neuro-modulation for targeted treatment of chronic diseases
Joint development agreement represents a promising step towards a highly selective and efficient next generation of bioelectronic therapies powered by graphene

INBRAIN Neuroelectronics, a company at the intersection of medtech, deeptech and digital health dedicated to developing the world’s first graphene-based intelligent neuroelectronic system, today announced a collaboration with Merck, a leading science and technology company. The aim of the collaboration is to co-develop the next generation of graphene bioelectronic vagus nerve therapies targeting severe chronic diseases in Merck’s therapeutic areas through INNERVIA Bioelectronics, a subsidiary of INBRAIN Neuroelectronics.

“We aim to accelerate developments in the emerging field of bioelectronics by boosting the novel modality of selective neurostimulation,” said Laura Matz, Chief Science and Technology Officer of Merck. “Today’s agreement with INNERVIA Bioelectronics gives Merck access to a unique technology that increases energy efficiency in neurostimulators and could therefore become a true enabler for digital personalized treatment of patients suffering from severe and chronic diseases such as inflammatory disorders.”

Both partners will closely collaborate over the next few years to actively drive this potential paradigm change in treating diseases with high unmet medical needs. With its bioelectronics research facilities, Merck is well equipped and can build on its data science, clinical, regulatory, and quality expertise to bring novel devices to patients in the near future. INNERVIA will add its technical expertise in the development of graphene interfaces, device development, and signal processing for clinical applications. Initial work will focus on inflammatory, metabolic, and endocrine disorders, using the promising capabilities of graphene for miniaturization, precision, and high modulation efficiency in the vagus nerve.

“This partnership highlights the importance of key players in their respective domains joining strengths to develop electronic therapies based on minimally invasive technologies and precise signal coding, enabled by graphene, for patients with debilitating, systemic, chronic conditions,” said Jurriaan Baker, CTO of INNERVIA Bioelectronics. “Our shared mission is to improve outcomes for these patients, who live with scarce information about their conditions and little control over their journey,” added Carolina Aguilar, Co-founder & CEO of INBRAIN Neuroelectronics.

“Bioelectronic devices have the capability to directly communicate with the nervous system. Recording nerve signals and combining them with other accessible physiological datasets will lead to a better understanding of disease conditions and enable personalized treatment regimens,” said Robert Spoelgen, Head of Bioelectronics, Merck Innovation Center. “We are convinced that bioelectronic devices will play a significant role in the future therapeutic landscape.”

Altered and dysregulated nerve signals occur with many severe chronic diseases. Bioelectronic therapies aim to address a wide range of chronic diseases using small, implantable devices to modulate electrical signals passing along nerves in the body. Furthermore, neurostimulation devices are expected to become increasingly smart as a result of additional features such as continuous readouts, data analysis and data transmission, which will increase the energy use of the device. Yet at the same time, the devices are expected to miniaturize further. These trends are creating significant challenges for the supply of power to these devices. In addition, certain indications have particularly high and continuous power requirements due to the specific disease characteristics. With current technologies, it is extremely difficult to develop viable neurostimulation therapies for these indications.

Improving the energy efficiency of these devices will play an important role in overcoming this power supply dilemma, since alternatives such as energy harvesting are still in their infancy and are far from practical clinical applications. Reduced Graphene Oxide (rGO) offers ideal material characteristics for significantly decreasing power consumption while maintaining stimulation efficacy. This is achieved through a high charge injection limit combined with very low impedance compared with all other available electrode materials. Graphene, a two-dimensional material first isolated in 2004, is made of a lattice of carbon atoms only one atom thick and is the strongest material ever tested at roughly 100 times the strength of an equivalent thickness of steel. INNERVIA’s technology harnesses the power of graphene, which has unique electrical and thermal conduction properties that are still being explored.1 This partnership we announce today aims to push the potential of graphene technology to the next level in the field of bioelectronics.

About INBRAIN Neuroelectronics S.L. is a medical device company dedicated to the development and commercialization of graphene-based neural interfaces and intelligent neuromodulation systems. Founded in 2019, the company is a spin-off from Graphene Flagship partners, Catalan Institute of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology (ICN2) & ICREA in Barcelona. INBRAIN is developing the least invasive and most intelligent neural interface on the market that will be able to read and modulate brain activity with very high resolution to obtain optimal results in personalized neurological therapies. INNERVIA Bioelectronics, is a subsidiary of INBRAIN Neuroelectronics, is dedicated to the development and commercialization of intelligent graphene systems designed to modulate vagus nerve signals, decoding them into medical solutions. For more information, please visit inbrain- neuroelectronics.com.

About the Merck Innovation Center

To complement existing research and development in the three business sectors of Merck, the Merck Innovation Center team aims to create new businesses for Merck outside of the current R&D scope. It strives to unlock the untapped potential of Merck by leveraging assets and competencies across sectors, generating projects around these assets, and ultimately incubating these ideas into viable new businesses. With Bioelectronics as the latest addition, the Merck Innovation Center now pursues projects in two innovation fields. In the Cultured Meat innovation field – also referred to as cultivated or clean meat – Merck focuses on the biotechnology required to produce genuine meat and seafood grown in vitro and aims to become the technology enabler for this emerging industry. Other projects in the Innovation Center include OneZeroMed a 3D printing (laser sintering) solution that will simplify tablet production tremendously, leading to significant cost and time savings during clinical development.

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About Merck

Merck, a leading science and technology company, operates across healthcare, life science and electronics. Around 58,000 employees work to make a positive difference to millions of people’s lives every day by creating more joyful and sustainable ways to live. From advancing gene editing technologies and discovering unique ways to treat the most challenging diseases to enabling the intelligence of devices – the company is everywhere. In 2020, Merck generated sales of € 17.5 billion in 66 countries.

Scientific exploration and responsible entrepreneurship have been key to Merck’s technological and scientific advances. This is how Merck has thrived since its founding in 1668. The founding family remains the majority owner of the publicly listed company. Merck holds the global rights to the Merck name and brand. The only exceptions are the United States and Canada, where the business sectors of Merck operate as EMD Serono in healthcare, MilliporeSigma in life science, and EMD Electronics.

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