The newly announced business will be entirely focused on the billions of dollars of annual revenues on offer from helping patients with a range of major health issues, from diabetes, Parkinson’s, cancer and heart disease to the general quest to increase comfortable life span.
The split is part of Google’s Alphabet reshuffle that has seen the clearer separation of activities such as advertising and self driving cars.
At the head of the new health unit is Andy Conrad, who has an extensive nanotechnology and molecular biology background, and who was head of life sciences at the former Google X research division.
Google co-founder Sergey Brin, never one to miss out on a big business opportunity, is determined for the company to position itself at the forefront of the immensely lucrative health tech market in several key areas.
Nothing Google ever does is by halves – even its step away from smart glasses (known as Google Glass) is temporary until they can be commercialized more successfully – so a move into healthcare will be aimed at eventual market leadership.
It’s also personal for Brin, who is particularly interested in treating Parkinson’s after his mother developed the condition.
Co-founder Larry Page has a rare vocal cord condition and is a strong drive to improve healthcare tech.
Google will work with companies ranging from research and development startups to advanced clinical firms similar to Novartis.
Of course, Google is far from alone in this market. Apple, Microsoft Fitbit and Samsung are among those increasingly active in fitness and health tracking. Intel, which is making serious steps in managing both Parkinson’s and cancer, just last weekreleased the communication system used by Stephen Hawking to the tens of thousands of ALS sufferers in the US and beyond (even if that was open sourced, we can expect Intel to be offering paid for systems in other areas).
Transforming Disease Detection, Prevention And Management
Google’s new health unit was born directly from the company’s ongoing work on smart contact lenses, which was described by Brin in a recent Google+ post as an “immensely challenging technical problem with an important application to health”.
The work, which has been ongoing for three years with no product yet available, is aimed at creating a smart contact lens that contains a low power microchip and an almost invisible, hair-thin electronic circuit. The lens can measure diabetics’ blood sugar levels directly from tear fluid on the surface of the eyeball, sending data to their mobile device.
It is just the start of Google’s vision to transform the way scientists detect, prevent and manage disease, including heart health, and potentially attempt to increase the length and quality of people’s lives with its Calico business.
Brin said he was “delighted” at the smart contact lens project’s progress, but added that he “could not have imagined the potential of the initiative it has grown into: a life sciences team with the mission to develop new technologies to make healthcare more proactive.”
The tech being produced includes a nanodiagnostics platform for detecting disease right down to the molecular level, a technique expected to find particular use in areas such as cancer and even Alzheimer’s. Indeed, evidence of Google’s interest in tackling cancer comes in the form of numerous talented oncologists being appointed to its founding life sciences team.
Meanwhile, Google is developing a cardiac and activity monitor, and making progress on its ‘Baseline Study’ genomic efforts to map a healthy human body and predict illness before it takes hold. And one year ago it acquired Lift Labs, a fast growing Parkinson’s startup.
The work, Brin admits, is a “huge undertaking” . But Google is known for relentlessly pushing its vision. The results over the next few decades are likely to have an equally resounding impact, of course, on both public health and Google’s own financial position.