Google to Spin Off Life Sciences Team Into an Independent Firm

By Jaikumar Vijayan  |  Posted 2015-08-24 Print this article Print
Google spinning off life sciences into Alphabet company

Under the Alphabet umbrella, the new company will continue to work with other life sciences firms to bring new technologies to market.

Google's Life Sciences team, known for its work on smart contact lenses for people with diabetes, will be spun off into an independent Alphabet company.

Andy Conrad, currently the head of the Life Sciences team, will become the CEO of the new venture.

"While the reporting structure will be different, their goal remains the same," Sergey Brin, president of Alphabet, announced in a Google+ post. "They'll continue to work with other life sciences companies to move new technologies from early stage R&D to clinical testing—and, hopefully—transform the way we detect, prevent and manage disease."

As part of Google's semi-secret Project X group, the Life Sciences Team has been working on technologies for people with major health problems. The group's work on smart contact lenses is one example.

The lens, a prototype of which the team has been testing for the past several months, is designed to continuously measure glucose levels in tears, using a miniature glucose sensor and wireless chip. The goal behind the effort is to give people with diabetes a better way to manage the disease.

Nanodiagnostics is another major focus area for Google's Life Sciences team. As part of the effort, the team is seeing if it can combine the use of nanoparticles in the bloodstream with sensors embedded on wearable devices to detect diseases like pancreatic cancer and heart disease much earlier than possible today.

The Life Sciences team has used strategic acquisitions and partnerships to build out much of its capabilities. Google's smart contact lenses, for instance, are being developed in collaboration with Swiss pharmaceutical firm Novartis.

In March, Google announced that its Life Sciences team would work with Johnson & Johnson subsidiary Ethicon to develop robot-assisted surgical platforms for use in operating rooms.

Under the effort, the two companies have committed to research in the field of minimally invasive surgical instruments. Google's role is to see how the latest innovations in computer science, imaging and sensor technology can be integrated into such instruments. For example, it is exploring how real-time image analytics can be used to enhance a surgeon's vision during surgeries.

Strategic acquisitions have also helped the Life Sciences team build out its growing portfolio of products. One example is Google's purchase last year of Lift Labs, a smart spoon maker for people with hand tremors. The company sells a stabilizing handle that can be used with a soupspoon, regular spoon or fork to mitigate the effects of hand tremors.

Google's decision to spin off the Life Sciences team into an independent company under Alphabet comes just three years after it launched the unit. "We embarked on a project to put computing inside a contact lens—an immensely challenging technical problem with an important application to health," Brin noted.

Since then, the initiative has grown rapidly and includes several new technologies to make health care more proactive, he said. "The efforts it has spawned include a nanodiagnostics platform, a cardiac and activity monitor and the Baseline Study," he said referring to a genomics project.


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