Novartis, Google shoot to have smart contact lenses in clinic in 2016

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

Swiss drugmaker Novartis ($NVS) has been on a med tech roll this past year, forging ahead with multiple projects to gain ground in the industry. And at least one of those initiatives, a "smart" contact lens that it's developing with tech titan Google ($GOOG), is already starting to bear fruit.

As Novartis CEO Joe Jimenez told Swiss newspaper Le Temps, "the project is progressing well" and the company plans to test a first prototype of the product, a smart lens for vision correction in people with presbyopia, or age-related farsightedness, on humans in 2016, Reuters reports. "I had said it would take about 5 years to see a product on the market," Jimenez said, as quoted by Le Temps, and the announcement moves the company one step closer toward achieving this goal.

The smart contact lens for presbyopia is only one of the company's vision-related projects with Google. The pair last year announced they would team up to develop smart contact lenses for diabetes, allowing patients to measure glucose from their tears using a miniaturized sensor and a wireless chip. In July, Novartis' Alcon eye care division inked a deal with Google to license its "smart lens" technology for all ocular medical uses, opening the door for more collaboration.

Meanwhile the company continues to expand its reach through a series of initiatives, including pills and inhalers with sensors to help patients stick to their meds; clinical tests that use Microsoft's ($MSFT) Kinect, a motion-sensing technology paired with Xboxes, to track walking speed and balance in people with multiple sclerosis; and a navigation app for the visually impaired that runs on the Apple Watch.

Novartis is also looking to cash in on the rapidly growing patient monitoring market through deals with monitoring giant Qualcomm ($QCOM). Earlier this year, the companies announced they would award up to $100 million to promising startups developing remote patient monitoring technology for smartphones and other devices. The same month, Novartis said it deepen its ties with Qualcomm by using the company's Life2net cloud-based sharing platform in clinical trials to remotely collect data from patients' medical devices.

Novartis CEO Joe Jimenez

But Novartis is not stopping there. The drugmaker is weighing more bolt-on acquisitions between $2 billion and $5 billion, considering companies with promising patient adherence technologies. And for a company in the midst of change, a tech focus could provide a welcome stream of revenue. At least four of Novartis' top 10 drugs have lost or will lose patent protection in the next year, laying $10 billion in revenue on the line, Bloomberg noted earlier this year.

"We would go in with a package of services including the pharmaceutical, the technology that will help that patient comply, a warning system that showed if that patient was not complying," Jimenez said earlier this year. "We will have to partner with companies that have like interests in the tech space."

- read the Le Temps story (in French)
- here's Reuters' take