Google Ventures splashes into life sciences with its $425M purse

Google Ventures' Bill Maris

Google Ventures is betting more and more on life sciences startups each year, and the well-funded financier tells The Wall Street Journal that's not going to change in the new year.

In 2014, Google ($GOOG) poured more than one-third of its $425 million venture fund into healthcare and life sciences companies, lead investor Bill Maris told WSJ, up from just 9% in 2013. And, rolling into next year, Maris expects Google Ventures to maintain roughly the same dollar value and strategic focus.

The shift is two-pronged, Maris said. For one, Google sees an explosion of potential in the space thanks to the rise of genomics and availability of patient data. Separately, the traditional consumer tech world, where Google Ventures has long been a player, is getting bubbly, with valuations creeping out of control.

"Barring some huge calamity, we'll see more interesting things in life sciences in 2015," Maris told WSJ.

Google Ventures isn't getting into specifics on its life sciences strategy, but if the group's existing portfolio is any indication, it'll have a genomic bent. Among Google's beneficiaries are 23andMe, Foundation Medicine ($FMI), DNAnexus and Flatiron Health, companies that sequence, analyze and index genomic data. But the company has placed plenty of bets on more traditional biotech outfits, as well, including antibody specialist Adimab, large-molecule developer Rani Therapeutics and iPierian, since acquired by Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY) for up to $725 million.

Google's deeper dive into life sciences goes beyond its venture arm. Last year, the company expanded its secretive, R&D-focused Google X unit to include a dedicated life sciences team, spurring rumors that the tech giant is planning to make major waves in the field of wearable health devices.

And then there's Calico, a Google-funded biotech with the vague mission of battling aging and a star-studded staff to lead the effort. Short for California Life Company, the startup got off the ground last year with Genentech veterans Art Levinson and Hal Barron leading a team of well-regarded researchers, and Calico has since inked a research deal with AbbVie ($ABBV) to get rolling on an R&D operation that could cost up to $1.5 billion.

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