Google’s Life Sciences division has its first big mission: developing new ways to treat and manage diabetes. But in a sign that the company is serious about making real progress, it’s not diving into diabetes research alone. It is working with French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi, one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies.
Signals suggesting Google wanted to do more than dabble in biomedical research were growing even before Google co-founder Sergey Brin said its life sciences operation would be spun out as an independent company under Google’s reorganization into Alphabet. Google has in recent months hired prominent scientists, including immunologists, neurologist and even nanoparticle engineers to feed its life sciences ambitions.
Diabetes is a logical starting point. The life sciences unit already has developed a contact lens for measuring blood glucose levels, and it recently signed a deal with medical equipment company Dexcom to develop a cheap and convenient continuous glucose monitoring device.
Google says this focus on diabetes marks a move away from a “tech centric” approach to a “disease centric” approach. But make no mistake: life sciences is still firmly a technology company. Google points out that sudden fluctuations in blood sugar cause the worst outcomes for diabetes patients, such as heart disease, strokes, and nerve damage. Through its data-centric work with Sinofi, Google hopes providing doctors and patients with better information could help prevent or mitigate these fluctuations.
“New technologies could make it simple for a physician to understand when a patient’s blood sugar is tracking high for days in a row,” Google says, “or could offer new ways for a patient to get real-time information and specific guidance about diet or insulin dosage.”
These new technologies will take years to reach the market, but one of Google’s big goals in partnering with Sanofi is to accelerate the speed at which medical breakthroughs are able to reach patients. And the as-yet-unnamed new company won’t be stopping at diabetes. In the coming months, Google says it will have more details on plans to combat other serious diseases, including cancer, heart disease, and neurodegenerative conditions.