Google has created a new company, Calico, with a mighty task: beat back death, or at least ensure that people live in better health for longer.
Calico will focus on health-related issues, specifically aging and related diseases. Art Levinson, the former CEO of Genentech, will serve as Chief Executive Officer.
In a posting on his Google Plus page, Google CEO Larry Page acknowledged that a medical-research firm is well outside Google’s usual focus. “But as we explained in our first letter to shareholders, there’s tremendous potential for technology more generally to improve people’s lives,” he wrote. “So don’t be surprised if we invest in projects that seem strange or speculative compared with our existing Internet businesses.” Any investments in Calico, he added, will remain small in comparison to Google’s core business operations.
Aging is something that affects every living organism, of course, and it seems as if Calico will tackle the host of degradations that come along with it, from decreased mental acuity to the inability to physically move from Point A to B. In a separate press release, Page summarized the project as “moonshot thinking.”
If recent research into medical issues is any indication, Calico will need to employ the latest and greatest data-analytics tools if it wants to make any headway. Private tech firms such as IBM, as well as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other government agencies, are all pouring millions of dollars into medical-oriented Big Data research. NIH, for example, recently announced that it would sign over $24 million per year to the Big Data to Knowledge Centers of Excellence, investigator-initiated facilities that will research data science. “The ability of researchers to locate, analyze, and use Big Data (and more generally all biomedical and behavioral data) is often limited for reasons related to access to relevant software and tools, expertise, and other factors,” read a note posted on NIH’s BD2K Webpage.
Hospitals are also getting into the game, announcing alliances with tech firms on data-analytics initiatives. Take Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, which announced in February that it had partnered with IBM and WellPoint to train the Watson supercomputing platform in processing and interpreting oncology data; similar efforts are underway across the country.
Given Google’s ability to store and analyze massive amounts of data, and its army of sophisticated engineers, it’s certainly capable of a mighty medical-analytics effort. But conquer death? That still might prove an impossible goal.
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