Google is launching Calico, a new company that will focus on health and aging in particular. The independent firm will be run by Arthur Levinson, former CEO of biotech pioneer Genentech, who will also be an investor. Levinson, who began his career as a scientist and has a Ph.D. in biochemistry, plans to remain in his current roles as the chairman of the board of directors for both Genentech and Apple, a position he took over after its co-founder Steve Jobs died in 2011. In other words, the company behind YouTube and Google+ is gearing up to seriously attempt to extend the human life span. But it’s a monumental task that’s going to require a ton of money as well as people who understand how consumers view health.
According to Time “why would Google be able to get traction on aging when huge pharmaceutical companies haven’t? Page himself doesn’t oversell his knowledge of the industry. “I don’t have as much personal expertise in the technology,” he admits. “I have some knowledge of it, just being in Silicon Valley. Medicine is well on its way to becoming an information science: doctors and researchers are now able to harvest and mine massive quantities of data from patients. And Google is very, very good with large data sets. While the company is holding its cards about Calico close to the vest, expect it to use its core data-handling skills to shed new light on familiar age-related maladies. Sources close to the project suggest it will start small and focus entirely on researching new technologies. When will that lead to something Google might actually sell? It’s anybody’s guess.”
While some are viewing this venture with a lot of skepticism I believe the time is right to use technology to both improve healthcare and more importantly lower costs. The mobile health market is all over the place but physicians seem to be happy using just a few apps to look up drug information. However a majority of physicians start their search for health information via a search engine. I have been calling for Google to develop a special search portal for credible health information.
For consumers the quest to get them to give up their unhealthy lifestyles is going to take a deep rooted effort both on and offline. There isn’t one tactic that’s going to work to get Americans to give up their over consumption of sugar and saturated fat. Still this is an exciting effort with a lot of opportunities. I hope that Calico won’t launch a lot of beta products without doing some market research that leads to an in depth understanding of consumer health behavior. It’s a challenge but let’s hope Google is in this for the long haul to change health.