Google’s latest moonshot: the battle against ageing

Google has poured an unknown amount of cash into a new project that aims to tackle age-related illnesses.

Google's latest moonshot: the battle against ageing

The firm announced a new healthcare venture, Calico, that will research the “challenge of ageing”. The new company will be led by Apple chairman Arthur Levinson, also the chairman and ex-CEO of biotechnology firm Genentech.

The project has also been endorsed by Apple CEO Tim Cook, who said he was “excited” by the prospect of Calico.

With some longer term, moonshot thinking around healthcare and biotechnology, I believe we can improve millions of lives

Otherwise, details are scant. It isn’t clear what Calico will research or produce, nor how much the project will cost. Google’s history of investing in data-driven medical companies through its venture capital arm suggests Calico might take an information-driven approach, but CEO Larry Page said it was too early to define the company’s aims.

“Art [Levinson] and I are excited about tackling ageing and illness,” he said. “These issues affect us all — from the decreased mobility and mental agility that comes with age, to life-threatening diseases that exact a terrible physical and emotional toll on individuals and families.”

“And while this is clearly a longer-term bet, we believe we can make good progress within reasonable timescales with the right goals and the right people,” he added.

Although Calico is being compared to Google’s series of speculative projects – or “moonshots”, such as driverless cars and Google Glass – it appears the venture will operate as a standalone company rather than as a part of Google’s labs.

It isn’t clear how much Google or external investors have poured into Calico either, though the firm did acknowledge Levinson as a “founding investor”. Page added that the cost of Calico was “very small” compared with Google’s core business.

Try, try, try again

This isn’t the first time Google and its founders have expressed an interest in healthcare.

The firm launched Google Health in 2008 as a way for patients to track their medical records, but shuttered the project in January this year.

Page has also publicly discussed a nervous condition that has left one of his vocal cords paralysed, and co-founder Sergey Brin has invested in studies on Parkinson’s, after discovering his own susceptibility to the disease.

Google’s venture capital arm, Google Ventures, has also financed 23andMe, the DNA sequencing startup founded by Brin’s wife. It’s also invested in a number of other life science startups.

“With some longer term, moonshot thinking around healthcare and biotechnology, I believe we can improve millions of lives,” said Page.

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