Google's emerging healthcare focus is on new technology--and preventive medicine
Name: Andrew Conrad
Title: Head of life sciences, Google
Flush with cash, Silicon Valley bigwigs like Google ($GOOG) are expanding into new ventures including automobiles and, yes, even healthcare. While established players often focus on incremental improvements, these outsiders think big and aim to revolutionize medicine. At Google those innovations come from its secretive innovation arm, Google X, whose life sciences lab is headed by Andrew Conrad, cofounder of LabCorp's National Genetics Institute.
Established healthcare players are keeping a nervous eye on the tech industry's aspiring healthcare companies. If Google's vision of proactive, preventive medicine becomes reality, their medicines and medical devices will only work better," Conrad said at a summit sponsored by The Wall Street Journal, adding, "[I]f they're not ready they should be, because it's coming."
Like many leaders from Silicon Valley, Conrad is prone to make grandiose statements such as "fundamentally our foe is death." While he does not propose eliminating death, Conrad said the lab's innovation can delay it by catching diseases early on.
At the event, Conrad told of a colleague treated for kidney cancer at an early stage--but only because he was hit by a car. Doctors found the tumor while examining him after the accident. "Had he not been hit by a car, he would have come into the hospital with late-stage renal cell carcinoma and had an 8% chance of living for 5 more years," he said. "That was the clarifying moment that there has to be a better way to do this."
To that end, Conrad's team is developing wearable sensors that would constantly circulate magnetic nanoparticles throughout the body. The particles would be tuned to bind to certain agents, such as cancer cells, and doctors could "read" them to help diagnose diseases--at an early stage, ideally.
Last year, Google Life Sciences outlicensed a smart contact lens that both corrects vision and monitors glucose levels, to Novartis' ($NVS) Alcon eye care unit. The technology demonstrates Conrad's desire to develop noninvasive technologies that work continuously. The lens would eliminate the need for diabetics to repeatedly draw blood for measuring their blood sugar--a test, Conrad points out, that only reveals the body's condition at a single point in time.
Conrad said the nanoparticle sensor is roughly a decade away from commercialization. He hopes to find a partner to take the product to market and worry about things like manufacturing and distribution, so his team of geeks can focus on science and the next big thing.
-- Varun Saxena (email | Twitter)
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