Verily, Alcon halt work on glucose-sensing smart contact lens

After more than four years in development, Verily and Novartis’ Alcon unit have decided to mothball their work on a smart contact lens to measure glucose levels in users with diabetes.

In a posting by Verily’s chief technical officer, Brian Otis, Ph.D., the company said its clinical work was unable to consistently measure levels of glucose across the tear film of the eye, as well as its correlation with blood glucose concentrations.

“In part, this was associated with the challenges of obtaining reliable tear glucose readings in the complex on-eye environment,” said Alphabet’s life sciences division. “For example, we found that interference from biomolecules in tears resulted in challenges in obtaining accurate glucose readings from the small quantities of glucose in the tear film.”

The news also comes just days after Novartis filed with the SEC to spin off its long-struggling eye-care business arm; the spinoff is expected to be completed in the first half of next year.

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The glucose-sensing lens was one of Verily’s first projects, launched in January 2014. Since then, it’s evolved into an electronics platform mounted on a soft contact lens, capable of transmitting data using integrated circuits, sensors, batteries and wireless communication hardware, the company said.

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Last year, Novartis Chairman Joerg Reinhardt, Ph.D., described the program’s chances of developing a commercial product as a long shot but not without other potential benefits.

“I personally think it’s a highly risky project,” Reinhardt said at Novartis’ annual meeting in Basel, Switzerland, according to a translation provided by the company. “Nevertheless, it gives us at Novartis and Alcon the opportunity to work together with a technological leader like Google and to learn from that in ways that we can then apply in other areas. It’s an important pilot project.”

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Going forward, the collaboration will continue its work on a responsive, accommodating contact lens for presbyopia, or age-related farsightedness, that aims to mimic the eye’s natural back-and-forth focusing motions triggered by pressure inside the eye. They are also developing a smart intraocular lens for improving sight following cataract surgery.

Verily will also continue its work with Dexcom to develop miniaturized continuous glucose monitors, as well as its Onduo joint venture with Sanofi.