The trend toward wearable technology in health care continues with a new partnership between Google and Novartis. Actually, the partnership involves Novartis’ eye care division, Alcon, and the somewhat secretive Google[x] – an exclusive lab where experts in robotics and artificial intelligence develop super high-tech devices. And one of those devices is the Smart Lens, a tool Novartis plans to in-license and market to patients suffering from eye diseases. In recent years, health-conscious consumers have zeroed-in on wearable health solutions. In order to track vital signs and optimize fitness, people are donning apparatus that track everything from heart rate and blood pressure, to caloric burn and sleep cycles.
This latest collaboration between Big Pharma and Google takes the concept a step further by substituting traditional health care solutions – like the contact lens – with cutting edge wearable devices that perform at a much higher level.
Smart Lens Helps More Than Eyesight
The Google Smart Lens features non-invasive sensors, microchips and other miniaturized electronics which are embedded within the device. Pending pharmaceutical testing, Novartis plans to market the technology in two key areas. First, toward patients with presbyopia – a condition in which the eye loses its ability to focus in on nearby objects. Sufferers slowly lose the ability to perform key functions, like reading. The Smart Lens has the potential to correct this degenerative disease, at least in part, by assisting the eye’s natural ability to autofocus. Secondly, Novartis’ Alcon division will market the Smart Lens toward diabetes patients. The Lens technology can actually analyze patients’ tears, providing a glucose measurement on a device that connects wirelessly to the product.
Miniature Medical Devices
Google has long been recognized as a leader in miniaturization. The Smart Lens has been made possible by their advances in creating nano-electronics that wield high-tech power from very small quarters. Big Pharma has also invested heavily in shrinking down its delivery systems – nano-needles and nano-particles both feature strongly in current clinical research projects. So, a partnership between the two industries seems inevitable. Sergey Brin, Co-Founder of Google says, “Our dream is to use the latest technology in the miniaturization of electronics to help improve the quality of life for millions of people.” Smart Lens represents one of the first steps toward actualizing that mission, making wearable mini-technology an integral part of new health care solutions.
Inside the Google[x] Lab
Google[x] is a special unit within Google that is dedicated to finding the most innovative technological solutions to the world’s big problems. Launched in 2010, the lab is somewhat shrouded in mystery, purposefully tackling projects that Richard DeVaul, Google[x] lab evaluator says, “Google in its right mind wouldn’t do.” These are long-shot, high-risk developments like Google Glass, self-driving cars, and wireless-connected refrigerators that order up food when your supplies run low.
At a time when Big Pharma is scaling back on new drug development – because of the skyrocketing cost of trials and pharmaceutical quality assurance protocols – collaborations with bold initiatives like Google[x] may be precisely what’s needed to advance 21st century healthcare.
How do you think collaborations between pharma companies and technology developers like Google will most impact the health care industry?