September 19, 2013
Google Spinoff Seeks To Extend Human Lifespan
[ Watch the Video: Google Has Its Sights Set On Your Lifespan ]
redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online
The new venture, dubbed Calico, will be run by former Genentech chief executive Arthur Levinson, who will also be an investor.
“Illness and aging affect all our families... from the decreased mobility and mental agility that comes with age, to life-threatening diseases that exact a terrible physical and emotional toll on individuals and families,” said Google co-founder and chief executive Larry Page in an announcement Wednesday morning.
“With some longer term, moonshot thinking around healthcare and biotechnology, I believe we can improve millions of lives,” he added. "While this is clearly a longer-term bet, we believe we can make good progress within reasonable timescales with the right goals and the right people.”
Page hinted that cancer might be one of the illnesses Calico’s small team would tackle. However, viewing problems through the prism of data and statistics – something Google does well – can sometimes produce counter-intuitive ideas.
“One of the things I thought was amazing is that if you solve cancer, you’d add about three years to people’s average life expectancy. We think of solving cancer as this huge thing that’ll totally change the world. But when you really take a step back and look at it, yeah, there are many, many tragic cases of cancer, and it’s very, very sad, but in the aggregate, it’s not as big an advance as you might think,” Page said during an in-depth interview with TIME magazine.
Health issues are an area of personal interest for Google co-founders Page and Sergey Brin.
In May, Page announced that he suffers from a rare nerve disease that has damaged both vocal cords, a condition that has left him with a soft, raspy voice. He also said he had been diagnosed with Hashimoto's thyroiditis, a thyroid inflammatory condition that he said causes him no problems.
Brin has disclosed that he has a higher-than-average chance of being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, which his mother had. He learned of his heightened risk after taking tests with 23andMe, a biotech firm founded by his wife, in which Google is an investor. Brin has said he believes he can lessen his chances of getting Parkinson’s through a strict diet and exercise regimen.
Page acknowledged that Calico seems to be a departure from what Google does today.
"Don't be surprised if we invest in projects that seem strange or speculative compared with our existing Internet businesses," he wrote on his Google+ profile. "And please remember that new investments like this are very small by comparison to our core business."
It is not yet clear whether Calico will open its own medical labs, although Google is taking the unusual step of funding the company as a spinoff, rather than keeping it in its Google X division, which oversees Google Glass and the company’s self-driving car.
"It's still very early days, so there's not much more to share yet," Page wrote in a post on the Google+ social network.
A Google spokesman declined to provide further details about Calico’s financial structure or its leadership beyond Levinson, who reportedly owns more than $75 million in Apple stock and is also investing personally in Calico.
“I’ve devoted much of my life to science and technology, with the goal of improving human health. Larry’s focus on outsized improvements has inspired me, and I’m tremendously excited about what’s next,” said Levinson, who holds a PhD in biochemistry from Princeton and is a member of the Biotech Hall of Fame.
Levinson plans to remain in his current roles as the chairman of the board of directors for both Genentech and Apple, a position he assumed following the death of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs in 2011.
Apple chief executive Tim Cook offered encouraging words about Google’s new health venture, and praised the selection of Levinson to lead the company.
“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.”