Google's med tech allure draws top scientists and academics

Thomas Insel

Google ($GOOG) is good at getting what it wants, as evidenced by its recent deals with device and biotech companies through its fast-growing Life Sciences group. And the tech titan's allure has also attracted some of the industry's top scientists, who left their positions in the research and academic fields to further Google's med tech ambitions.

As Nature reports, a string of life scientists are migrating to the company, fueled by the promise of money, resources and the opportunity to pursue difficult goals. Resources at a Silicon Valley tech firm like Google are "exponentially greater than what you can get through academic circles," Eric Topol, director of the La Jolla, CA-based Scripps Translational Science Institute, told the magazine. "And the metrics are different: instead of publications, it's just, 'Get stuff done,'" he added.

Google's advances were enough to catch the attention of Thomas Insel, former director of the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). In September, the NIMH helmsman said he would step down from the institute after 13 years to work for Google's reconceptualized Alphabet, applying the company's technologies to mental illness. "The Google philosophy has been to seek a 10x impact on hard problems. I am looking forward to a 10x challenge in mental health," Insel said at the time.

Jessica Mega

Jessica Mega, a cardiologist and professor at Harvard Medical School, recently put her academic career on pause to join Google's Life Sciences group. In May, Mega announced that she would lead Google's Baseline study, which aims to collect a broad swath of information from hundreds of samples to find disease biomarkers and eventually, provide a map of the human body. Mega will also act as chief medical officer of Google's Life Sciences division. Google's diverse team attracted her to the company, Mega told Nature.

"What I find compelling is the immersion of people with strong technology backgrounds--hardware and software engineers--sitting next to people like myself," Mega said. "The impact feels very, very large."

Which top scientist will join the company next is anyone's best guess. But the trend is not likely to end anytime soon, as Google forges ahead with its many initiatives. The company is working on a wide range of projects, including a partnership with DexCom ($DXCM) for glucose monitoring and a collaboration with Novartis ($NVS) to develop a smart contact lens. And recruiting talent could play a key role in accomplishing its goals. "I have a feeling we're going to see a lot more recruitment of leading lights," Topol said, as quoted by Nature.

- read the Nature story

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