Novartis and Google team up to develop smart contact lenses

Google and Novartis are teaming up to develop Google's "smart lens" technology for glucose monitoring and presbyopia.--Courtesy of Google

Novartis ($NVS) and Google ($GOOG) are teaming up to develop Google's smart contact lenses for diabetes and intraocular medical conditions.

Novartis' Alcon eye care division will license and market Google[X] development team's "smart lens" technology, which includes noninvasive sensors, microchips and other miniaturized electronics that are embedded into contact lenses. The companies did not disclose financial terms of the agreement, but said their work would focus on two research areas: helping diabetic patients continually monitor glucose levels using tear fluid, and correcting vision in individuals with presbyopia who can no longer read without glasses.

"We are looking forward to working with Google to bring together their advanced technology and our extensive knowledge of biology to meet unmet medical needs," Novartis CEO Joe Jimenez said in a statement. "This is a key step for us to go beyond the confines of traditional disease management, starting with the eye."

Both companies stand to benefit from the deal. Novartis' Alcon unit boasts the second-largest eyecare business with net sales of $10.5 billion in 2013, and Google is making headway with miniature, wearable devices that provide innovative solutions to common medical problems. Google unveiled its smart contact lens in January, and recently said it was in discussions with the FDA to help bring its product to market.

Novartis and Google are not the only companies that see potential in the intraocular lens market. Abbott Laboratories ($ABT) in June rolled out its new line of implantable Tecnis lenses in Europe after winning a CE mark for the product, spurring the company's "double-digit pace" in vision care sales, CFO Thomas Freyman said at a conference. Eyecare giant Bausch & Lomb won an FDA panel recommendation in April for its Trulign Toric eye implant, moving the company one step closer to full approval for its product.

Smaller operations are also looking for their cut of the profits. In April, ForSight Vision5 raised $15 million in Series C financing and completed enrollment of a Phase II clinical study for its noninvasive ocular implant therapy for eye diseases. In June, Belmont, CA-based PowerVision roped in $30 million in a Series D round to pursue regulatory approvals for its FluidVision intraocular lens. The company expects to complete a CE mark trial by the end of 2014 and gain European and U.S. regulatory approvals for its product next year, CEO Barry Cheskin told FierceMedicalDevices.

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