How will Google's forays into genomics play out?

Google's ($GOOG) expansions into life sciences and genomics have raised two big, as yet unanswered, questions--how will they affect the industry, and what do they mean for the company? This week, the San Francisco Chronicle looked into possible answers to both questions.

Google's headquarters--courtesy of Google
Google's headquarters--Courtesy of Google

In the past 6 months Google has set up a biotech focused on aging and a genomics cloud services platform, but both projects are still taking shape. It is still too early to tell whether they will succeed or join Google's big scrap heap of axed projects, but University of California, Los Angeles' George Geis sees reasons for optimism. Geis, who specializes in technology mergers and acquisitions, thinks Google Genomics has the potential to give the search giant new sources of revenues.

"It could very well transform Google into another type of company--it partners with a pharmaceutical company or licenses its discoveries and patents its discoveries," Geis told SF Chronicle. Such a scenario currently appears a distant prospect, but is one possible outcome of Google applying its mission to "organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful" to genomics.

Whether people are comfortable with Google organizing the world's genomic data is still questionable, though. Revelations of National Security Agency snooping on tech giants' data centers have made some people wary of trusting trusting the likes of Google with their search histories, let alone their genome data. And the results of a recent survey and the outcry over the English patient record database have shown many people are uncomfortable with companies profiting from their health data.

Earlier this month MedCity News reported on an exchange between technology columnist Kara Swisher and 23andMe CEO Anne Wojcicki at SXSW that sums up the concerns. "I don't like the idea of Google having my gut bacteria on file because they could monetize it, you know they could," Swisher said.

- read the SF Chronicle feature
- and MedCity News' article