Despite their new efforts in anti-aging with Calico, Google co-founder and CEO Larry Page says his company is not too keen on healthcare.
He described it as a “painful business to be in", given the restrictive regulatory environment that surrounds it—and that the company’s “cool” health projects won’t necessarily be an indicator that they’re focusing on healthcare anymore than other projects, such as driverless cars, wind turbines and high-altitude balloons to expand Internet coverage.
Actions Speak Louder
While its recent moves may not necessarily point to a shifting focus toward health, Google has increasingly invested resources, forged partnerships, and announced projects geared specifically for health. Google already has:
- Google Fit (fitness platform)
- Google X Baseline (genetic profiling and mapping of human body)
- Google Glass (a host of healthcare applications)
- Partnered with Novartis (smart contact lenses)
- Backed 23andMe (personal genomics)
- Its Android and Android Wear OS are already running a lot of smartphones and wearables.
Regarding Google’s plans for healthcare, actions may speak louder than words.
For instance, its biotech startup Calico (California Life Company), was launched last year with an ambitious goal: to conquer age-related diseases and prolong the lifespan.
In a blog post announcing Calico, Page said,
“Illness and aging affect all our families. With some longer term, moonshot thinking around healthcare and biotechnology, I believe we can improve millions of lives.”
Behind the Calico Curtain
Page and Google’s other executives remain tight-lipped about how Calico will realize their ambitious goal. But the recent announcement of a pact with pharmaceutical firm AbbVie could provide some clues.
Under the deal, Google and AbbVie will each give an initial $250 million to fund Calico, with each partner potentially pouring an additional $500 million into the partnership, per a Reuters report.
AbbVie will provide Calico with “scientific and clinical development support and commercial expertise” for the joint venture.
Google will initiate early stage trials of experimental drugs for five years through Phase 2a studies.
AbbVie will then take over to conduct late-stage trials and begin marketing efforts.
Anti-aging and Pharmaceuticals
AbbVie is known for its best-selling drug, Humira, for rheumatoid arthritis. It is also developing drugs for cancer, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease-conditions that Calico could target its future therapies for.
“Our relationship with AbbVie is a pivotal event for Calico, whose mission is to develop life-enhancing therapies for people with age-related diseases,”
Arthur Levinson, Ph.D., CEO and founder of Calico, said in a press release.
“It will greatly accelerate our efforts to understand the science of aging, advance our clinical work, and help bring important therapies to patients everywhere.”
The partners will establish a “world-class research and development facility in the San Francisco Bay Area,” according to the statement.
Google and AbbVie said they will split both costs and profits.
“Calico and AbbVie share a common goal: discovering, developing and bringing to market therapies for age-related diseases, including for neurodegeneration and cancer,”
Levinson added in a recent Google+ post.
With the recent announcement that Calico has just cemented an R&D deal for new compounds focusing on neurodegeneration, we get a clue about what some of the early focus will be.
A Who’s Who Calico Team
Levinson, the chairman and CEO of Genentech and chairman of Apple, was handpicked by Google to lead Calico back in September 2013.
“It’s impossible to imagine anyone better than Art—one of the leading scientists, entrepreneurs and CEOs of our generation—to take this new venture forward,”
Page said in the blog post announcing Calico. In the same announcement, Apple CEO Tim Cook also praised Levinson, saying,
“For too many of our friends and family, life has been cut short or the quality of their life is too often lacking. Art is one of the crazy ones who thinks it doesn’t have to be this way. There is no one better suited to lead this mission and I am excited to see the results.”
Levinson leads a veritable who’s who in genetics research who have joined Calico’s elite team since its inception.
As the Wall Street Journal notes, David Botstein has been a leading genetics researcher for more than 30 years, Cynthia Kenyon is noted for proving that aging can be controlled by manipulating genes, and Robert Cohen helped developed Genentech’s groundbreaking cancer drugs.
Botstein is Calico’s chief scientific officer, Kenyon is vice president for aging research, and another heralded scientist, Hal Barron—former chief medical officer at Roche—is the company’s research chief, according to the Reuters report.
Google and Calico’s bold and lofty ambition to achieve longevity can be
“a grand catalyst for digital health and launch it to a new and more interesting spot in the minds of science and society,”
“The marriage of great thinking, guts, with technology, big data and genomics just may reboot the entire digital health movement.”
Since actions do speak louder than words—and the words here are few and far between—it seems we’ll just have to wait and see what’s next for Google Calico and its anti-aging quest for the elusive Fountain of Youth.