Biogen taps Google's data analytics skills for MS research

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

Google ($GOOG) has opened another front in its ever-expanding march into life sciences. The latest deal sees the Google X lab that spawned smart contact lenses and self-driving cars team up with Biogen Idec ($BIIB) to unravel patient-to-patient variation in the progression of multiple sclerosis.

Bloomberg broke news of the deal, which expands on Biogen's earlier efforts to take a tech-enabled approach to MS research. The Cambridge, MA-based biotech has previously given Fitbit activity monitors to people with MS to assess their reliability as data-gathering tools. And it is in the middle of developing an iPad app with Cleveland Clinic to better track disease progression. Now, Biogen plans to work with Google to gather and analyze data on the lives of people with MS.

The goal is to understand why MS progresses differently from person to person. In doing so, Biogen could spot new ways to stop the disease early, improving the lives of patients and securing its top dog status in the MS market. Biogen thinks it can reach this point by combining its knowledge of MS with the skills at Google X's healthcare unit. "They bring great expertise in data analytics and technology, they're sophisticated in their approach, they understand biology," Biogen CEO George Scangos said.

Google X has quietly established a 150-person healthcare R&D team with an unusually broad range of skills, from astrophysics to oncology. The plan is to partner with biopharma companies and provide their R&D operations with a dose of Google X's much-vaunted "moonshot" approach. "What I think and hope we're good at is trying to do this moonshot, innovative thinking, where it's OK to fail, and we're looking for partners to join in these endeavors," Google X life sciences chief Andrew Conrad said.

- read Bloomberg's article

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