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Bold (Re)Thinking in Healthcare from Google

What do you do when you are one of the most innovative companies in the world and have previously made an exit after a brief stint dipping your virtual toe into healthcare? Google just announced plans to create a biotechnology company. The entity, called Calico, will be focused on health and well-being, particularly on aging and associated diseases. It is okay to admit if you are a bit caught off-guard by this. We are not surprised at all.

While Calico may appear a surprising choice for Google, the creation of this company has not been Google’s first foray into the healthcare space, albeit previously with limited success. Google Health, which provided medical record storage online to consumers, ceased operation in 2011 after three years due to lack of interest. Many don’t realize that Google has also been heavily invested in 23andMe, a biotech firm that provides genetic testing and is the leading health and ancestry DNA service. Google Chief Executive Larry Page admitted on his Google+ page of Calico, “That’s a lot different from what Google does today…. But as we explained in our first letter to shareholders, there’s tremendous potential for technology more generally to improve people’s lives.” That’s our point exactly as well.

The new company will be run separately from Google and will be headed by Art Levinson, Chairman and former CEO of Genentech and Chairman of Apple Inc. Dr. Levinson is Calico’s only employee for now (and also an investor). The company will most likely be initially focused on basic research on elucidating the mechanisms of aging. Much of this early research will most likely be done by providing funding to academic scientists but it is also possible that Calico may hire its own researchers. Dr. Levinson said that at first Calico would be “more of an institute certainly than a pharmaceutical company.” So far this seems like a familiar storyline to many of us in healthcare even if the Google connection may be keeping your eyebrows raised a bit, still.

Here’s the differentiation starting to be revealed – Calico has set lofty goals in addressing the challenges associated with aging and aging-related diseases, in order to improve and prolong human life. The company realizes that tackling issues surrounding aging and human longevity is a huge task and is committed to taking a “long-term approach” to understanding the biology of aging. Dr. Levinson has said, “Larry and I share a sense of sadness that so few companies are willing to make extremely long-term bets.” Clearly there is something more than patience and long-term vision at play here.

If Google succeeds with Calico, this may be their longest lasting contribution to society, dare we say, legacy. Google brings their expertise in technology to the healthcare industry, which can be a true game-changer. This new long-term approach Google brings to our industry that has been squarely focused on how quickly to get the next molecule into human trials and out to commercialization can possibly help shape the way current pharmaceutical companies look at diseases and drug development. 

This fresh outlook Calico brings to the healthcare industry is an example of the bold thinking that is a shared core value of our Firm, AXON. AXON not only believes in bold thinking we embrace it every day with our clients and within our organization – to provide our clients not just with great ideas but also with critical insights, innovative programs and business strategies that address challenges and opportunities. Our colleagues in our healthcare practice from the US, UK, Denmark and Canada applaud this bold thinking by Google and we would welcome the opportunity to discuss your current unmet needs and how we can begin to address innovation at your organization.