Google comes of age

Posted on: 24 September 2013 by Gareth Hargreaves

Larry Page, Google CEO, announces new venture focused on developing solutions for age-related mobility and health issues.

Google CalicoWhen Google sets its mind to explore and innovate it rarely fails to hit the mark, Google Nexus One accepted. Having mapped the planet, developed the excellent Street View, the self-driving car and the augmented reality headset, Google Glass, the omnipresent tech giant has turned its gaze on  ageing.

The new company, Calico, which will focus on health and well-being, in particular the challenge of aging and associated diseases, will be headed by CEO Art Levinson, Chairman and former CEO of Genentech and Chairman of Apple.

It shouldn't really come as a surpise to see Google spreading its wings, though for most it is synonymous with search engines and the internet, the advancements it has poineered put it at the forefront of technical innovation.

Larry Page, Google's CEO, has referred to previous forays away from core business as "moon shots", but this is far from some fountain of youth-type fantasy. Google, for all its faults, is a leader and in creating Calico it is encouraging some of the world's brightest minds to follow it on the journey. The need for more socially responsible service development is key to managing the needs of ageing populations the world over.

“Illness and aging affect all our families," said Page.

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

This is not a charge to deliver cosmetic anti-ageing money spinners, the focus of Calico is research - doing data is what Google has been pretty successful at - to unpick and analyse the biological mechanisms behind the ageing process and explore solutions.

What would a cure for Type 2 Diabetes mean? Or a cure for cancer, dementia or osteoporosis? This is the path that Calico is walking.

Writing on his blog,Page has said:, "If you solve cancer, you’d add about three years to people’s average life expectancy. We think of solving cancer as this huge thing that’ll totally change the world. But when you really take a step back and look at it, yeah, there are many, many tragic cases of cancer, and it’s very, very sad, but in the aggregate, it’s not as big an advance as you might think."

Calico will be headed by Art Levinson who says he has devoted much of his life to science and technology "with the goal of improving human health. Larry’s focus on outsized improvements has inspired me, and I’m tremendously excited about what’s next.”

Having invested in 23andMe, the Californian genomics and biotechnology company, Google has access to a fast-growing genomic database and funding that will be the envy of the global research community. This is far from mad scientist thinking, it is a brave and potentially exciting project that could unlock some of the secrets of how our bodies weather with age.

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