Alphabet (ex-Google) is the next big thing in Life sciences

A lot is currently written about the initiatives launched by Alphabet (Google) in the life sciences field.

I had the wonderful opportunity to have a look at the report written by the internet analyst, John Blackledge, from Cowen and I must say that he’s very smart at showing the huge potential of the life sciences at the core of Alphabet (Google).

This report is amazing as it allows you to have a better understanding of what’s happening now inside Alphabet (Google). I summarized the key points/quotes from the report below and I added other articles at the end of this blog post. Moreover, I will update it frequently as the news come in. This is a fascinating topic, I really hope Alphabet (Google) would be able to replicate the same success it has built with its search engine.

Key quotes & comments from the report:

  • Expansion into health care and related segments allows Google to leverage its core competencies in Internet communications technology, data structuring and analysis, and fundamental process reinvention.

 

  • Specific areas of focus in healthcare include:
    (1) the sequencing the human genome and the rise of precision medicine: despite the monumental significance of mapping the human genome and the implications for drug discovery, this was but one step in a long journey that continues to this day. Moreover, genes are but one factor in disease, and little is known about what role environment and lifestyle play.
    (2) the digitization of health data is exploding, with a virtually endless list of sources that can offer insight into clinical data, drug studies and more. As more data is digitized, there will be a profound impact on how patient care is administered, how therapies are researched, and how drugs are tested. EHRs (Electronic Health Records) are crucial but implementation is very challenging. Harmonization and data aggregation need to find their way. Wearables are another interesting topic in the digitization of health data. Social media and discussion boards as well as patients website are essential parts of the system that must be closely monitored as more and more patients use those communication channels in order to provide feedback and comments on treatments and daily struggles with healthcare providers.
    (3) the shift to value-based care, where payments are based on the value of care, is driving a change in how services are delivered and how much consumers engage in the process. From a provider perspective, doctors are incentivized to manage patients to the best possible health outcome at the lowest cost. From a patient perspective,
    consumers are being empowered to take a more active role in their own health care.
    These health care trends are being accommodated by technology advances in areas such as social, mobile, analytics and cloud computing, all areas of Google expertise.

 

  • Alphabet invests in health in five different ways:
    (1) Google Life Sciences originated in Google[x], a research lab within Google that was funded by the company’s board of directors in January 2010 to pursue “moonshots”—audacious new projects that have a low probability of succeeding, but could be truly revolutionary if they do. The company views moonshots as critical in driving the true innovation required to affect revolutionary change and avoid the “incrementalism” or evolutionary change that tends to lead to corporate irrelevance over time. The Life Sciences team is responsible for such innovations as glucose monitoring smart contact lenses. With an expanding list of intellectual property, Life Sciences has begun to accelerate its collaborative efforts with third parties. The company is aggressively partnering with leading players in the health care space on a growing number of programs.
    (2) Calico’s mission is to harness advanced technologies to increase understanding of the biology that controls lifespan. Calico was originally conceived by Google Ventures President and General Partner, Bill Maris, who observed that most companies seek to find treatments for disease and associated symptoms, but that none address the root cause of disease and death. He wondered if studying the impact of aging on genetic material could lead to the discovery of drugs that could address many age-related diseases and significantly extend the human life span.
    (3) Google Ventures has provided seed, venture and growth stage funding to a host of companies in diverse fields, but its stated focus is machine learning and life science investing.
    (4) Google Capital was formed to invest in later-stage technology companies with a focus on emerging technology leaders and potential disruptors. Unlike the earlier stage companies in Google’s other investment vehicles, the later stage companies in Google Capital tend to be fairly common household names. Although the stated focus of Google Capital is on technology companies, the collision of technology and health care is blurring the lines of what a traditional “technology” company looks like.
    (5) Google Core: Over time, Google has invested in numerous health-related initiatives within its main corporate division. These have tended to be very closely linked to the company’s core businesses, such as Search. Earlier this year, the company announced that it will add health information that has been fact-checked by physicians directly to search results. The company is also talking to the FDA about using search query data to identify adverse drug reactions.

 

  • Google’s Health-Related Focus Areas: regardless of where they are housed within Google’s corporate structure, most of Google’s health-related endeavors share common characteristics.
    (1) Longevity
    (2) Genetics and Chronic Care
    (3) Diagnostics
    (4) Diabetes/Digital Health
    (5) Medical Devices
    (6) Telehealth/Digital Health
    (7) Wearables/Fitness

 

  • Google’s health endeavors fit with the company’s goals of “making the world’s information useful” and helping millions of people. Indeed, Google believes that many of the same principles, techniques and problem solving capabilities employed by its software developers can be applied to the massive inefficiencies that exist in health care to create transformational solutions and medical breakthroughs that help people live longer, healthier lives. Health care ambitions can be summarized as:
    (1) Analyze: Analytics to inform decision-making and provide business insight
    (2) Attract: Attract health care constituents to platforms and solutions that drive engagement
    (3) Aggregate: Aggregate data from disparate sources onto the Internet or GCP

 

Additional resources:

Alphabet to help researchers predict disease – Financial Times – April 2017

Google Life Sciences Exodus – STAT – March 2016

Verily, Google’s Health Gambit, Is Stacked With Scientists. Now It Needs to Build a Business – ReCode – December 2015

Google hires mental health expert to lead new life sciences unit – Financial Times – September 2015 (Subscription required)

Head of Mental Health Institute Leaving for Google Life Sciences – The New York Times – September 2015

Google Bets on Insurance Startup Oscar Health – WSJ – September 2015

Is Health Care Google’s Next Big Business After Search? This Investment Bank Thinks So – Re/Code – September 2015

Why Google Is Going All In On Diabetes – NPR – September 2015

Google’s health startup, AbbVie team up on drug research – Chicago-Sun Times – September 2015

Google Life Sciences Company Has New Deal, Official Nemesis in Diabetes – Re/Code – August 2015

Alphabet Breathes New Life, Resources Into Google’s Health Care Projects – iHealthBeat – August 2015

Google Health – Easy as ABC. Alphabet, Calico and the Aging of Humanity – What on Earth are they doing? – Digital Intervention – August 2015

 

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Google Willingness to Help Life Sciences – Wired

Google, or Alphabet, wants biomedical research and life sciences to be more than just side projects.

Several years ago, its efforts under way in that field were probably not considered seriously by the industrial stakeholders like Big Pharma and biotech companies.

Today it is different after several investments commited lately.

Discover more in the Wired article

 

Additional Resources

4 of the biggest healthcare challenges Google is tackling – HealthcareDIVE – August 2015

Here’s why Google Ventures invests so much money in life-science companies – Business Insider – May 2015

Andrew Conrad – Google Life Sciences – The 25 most influential people in biopharma in 2015 – FierceBiotech – May 2015

Google Continues To Build Upon Its Life Sciences Ecosystem – Forbes – September 2014

Meet the Google X Life Sciences Team – WSJ – July 2014

 

 

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Scientists want to make sure medical breakthroughs aren’t just for white men

Precision medicine could reduce the gender gap in clinical trials and genetic databases. This will lead to better care and improved outcomes for women and minorities.

Hacking the Human OS – IEEE

health_keyboard

A mind-blowing report from IEEE about the human body’s operating system

Can we harvest digital health data from trackers and sensors to improve our health and well-being? I summarized below what you will find on the IEEE dedicated web page. I was amazed by the variety and depth of all the innovations presented in these pages. Some of them have certainly the power to be game changers in the health care world. I’m looking forward to seeing all the advances coming to life!

Reading the Code

Several technologies are close to the market and will help us monitor our health. A very good example is the biostamps developed by John Rogers from the University of Illinois. These tiny, stretchable and skin-like sensors are able to send information and data to our smartphone alerting us whether something is happening in our body. More and more complex data could be sensed such as blood oxygen, blood glucose and even muscle weakness or sleep patterns.

Another fascinating example that could change the life of Type 1 diabetes patients is the artificial pancreas. It links “data from an implanted blood-sugar sensor to a computer, which then controls how a pump worn on the hip dribbles insulin under the skin through a pipette. In its fully realized form, the machine would take the patient out of the decision-making loop”. Advanced versions of the system are currently in clinical trials. Continuous monitoring is a huge advance in the field of disease management. It could strongly lighten the daily burden of each patient.

Another field where wearable are very popular: athletes. They are always eager to test the last innovation in the wearables arena. Physiological measurements can be extremely useful to optimize training and rest periods, improve performance and avoid injuries. Sleeves, wristbands, sensors equipped with highest technology can really make a difference in the way we monitor and track performance.

A device rapidly diagnosing any medical condition or disorder… Sounds like science fiction, right? Like in Star Trek… Some of you may recall the tricorder. And guess what? It’s about to become reality thank to a competition launched by Qualcomm. 300 teams registered, 10 finalists which are about to deliver their prototypes very soon. Once the winner has been chosen, real life clinical trials will start and we will know if it’s really working as expected. It’s a huge step forward as it will allow the diagnosis (and maybe the start of a treatment) for a lot of people, not only in US or Europe but also in emerging countries where the lack of medical infrastructure is killing human beings…

 

Analyzing the Code

Technology companies showed their interest in healthcare only recently… It’s welcomed because without technology you cannot do anything with data sets. However, some people are afraid of their data becoming public and being hacked. I think that between these two extreme opinions, we can take the good from both sides and see what this can bring us. “Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Samsung, have all launched e-health initiatives, mostly based around smartphones and wearables. Indeed, the fast-growing health care business would seem a natural next step for the tech giants”. A lot of deals have been signed between pharmaceutical companies and technology firms: Google and Novartis; IBM, Apple, Medtronic & JNJ… These are deals to follow in order to analyze the outcomes. Great initiatives could really emerge and I think we are at the beginning of a new era!

Long term analysis could help us understand in a more detailed way how we get sick, how the disease develop and how we could have anticipated it by looking at biomarkers trends.

The new era of precision medicine is making a big difference for patients. An open-source platform has transformed the way patients are being treated. Surgery is not always the best option in oncology for example and sometimes drug treatment is much more effective. A thorough and careful analysis of all the parameters will help doctors taking the right decision for the right patient at the right time.

Real-time epidemics modelling could have saved lives. Building treatment centers at the right locations, anticipating the spread of the disease (in this case, Ebola) and how to limit the contagion were several of the criteria used to run the model. We will never know what would have happen without such a model but globally we can say that modelling is critical in disease management. Additionally, it is not the use of a single model that will be helpful but the customized and accurate modelling for each and every epidemic, according to its characteristics.

 

Changing the Code

Performing surgical interventions at very small scales is becoming a reality. “Thanks to developments in microfabrication and other areas, researchers are pushing the limits on the size and capabilities of objects small enough to move through the human body”. “With the right design, researchers say, a microrobot—or a swarm of them—could deliver a highly targeted dose of drugs or radioactive seeds, clear a blood clot, perform a tissue biopsy, or even build a scaffold on which new cells could grow”. For the time being, tests have only been run in animals.

A new emerging medical field: electrical therapy. Vagus nerve stimulation has the potential to treat several conditions from migraine to asthma, even immune diseases. Progress is very slow and several failures have made history… but new startups are created and renew the interest in this type of technology.

W like Watson, the digital MD. Watson is based on machine learning: “bringing together computer scientists and clinicians to assemble a reference database, enter case studies, and ask thousands of questions. When the program makes mistakes, it self-adjusts. Researchers also evaluate the answers and manually tweak Watson’s underlying algorithms to generate better output. Here there’s a gulf between medicine as something that can be extrapolated in a straightforward manner from textbooks, journal articles, and clinical guidelines, and the much more complicated challenge of also codifying how a good doctor thinks.” Progress is under way.

 

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Google Ventures and the Search for Immortality – Bloomberg

We actually have the tools in the life sciences to achieve anything that you have the audacity to envision.”

VCThis Bloomberg article takes you through the world of Google Ventures and their vision of the future. 36% of their USD 2 billion portfolio is invested in Health & Life Sciences.

“If given the choice between making a lot of money or finding a way to make people live longer, what do you choose?”: it is the statement made by Bill Marris, president and managing partner of Google Ventures.

The Google Ventures investment history in Foundation Medicine is amazing. It created products like its Interactive Cancer Explorer, which is a kind of Google for oncologists, allowing them to do research and devise treatments for their patients. Other compelling companies where Google Ventures invested: Flatiron Health, specialized in cancer big data analysis; DNAnexus, focused on a global bank of genomic information; Transcriptic, operating robot-run small labs. And many more like: AdiMab, 23andMe.

“We aren’t trying to gain a few yards,” Maris says. “We are trying to win the game. And part of it is that it is better to live than to die.”

Bloomberg Article (including an interview with Bill Marris)

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Virtual drug screening – Google Blog

When Google enters the drug discovery landscape

testtubesThis blog post by Google is deeply interesting as it shows how the “new economy” companies like Google could help the “old economy firms” like the Big Pharma. Bringing new cheaper medicine faster to the patients is important today but will be key in the future as health systems will not be able to cope with never-ending rising healthcare costs. Maybe Google has the solution to help us all?

Google blog post   Venture Beat opinion    The Research paper

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