Google’s Launches Calico Seeking to Put an End to Death
Health science project recently announced with focus on aging and other related illnesses
By Imogen Grace, Staff Writer
In case you were starting to believe that Google doesn’t think big enough, the Internet giant has recently announced the launch of a new offshoot company that intends to tackle the problem of death itself.
Calico, which stands for California Life Company, is an embryonic venture launched by Google that will focus on health and well-being, in particular the challenge of aging and associated diseases. It is being headed by Google cofounder Larry Page and biotech pioneer Dr. Arthur Levinson. Like many forward thinkers in Silicon Valley, both men have shown an active interest in the quest for extending human life and the fountain of youth. Page is involved with Singularity University, a think tank philosophizing that humans and technology will one day merge, resulting eventually in immortality. Levinson is the former chief executive at Genetech, a biotechnology company leading the way in innovative scientific research concerning life-threatening illnesses, such as cancer.
Google’s first medical project, Google Health, was permanently discontinued after a lack of public interest. However, the search engine has made considerable strides in other areas of science and health, which include gathering strong data science talent and making strategic investments in health care startups through their venture fund. Also, their new technologized eyeglasses, the Google Glass, is already being acknowledged as a possible tool to be used by primary care physicians and surgeons. Unlike Google Health, Calico will be a separate entity from Google.
A statement was released about the project on Sep 18, but few details have been divulged. What is clear, however, is that while Levinson is currently the only recognized employee, the company intends to hire a team of researchers to unpack the biological mechanisms behind aging, and work on solutions to end or curb their effects. Page acknowledged that investments are in the range of the tens of millions of dollars.
Currently, the Food and Drug Administration in the United States does not recognize aging as a disease, so any potential pharmaceuticals designed by Calico in the future would need to be approved for a specific disease. But Levinson stated that if they were to discover a proven anti-drug medicine, the FDA would most likely change its mind.
Other ventures with similar goals have themselves struggled with longevity, such as significantly downsized Sirtris Pharmaceuticals and defunct Elixir Pharmaceuticals. This will not stop Page, who supports what Google has dubbed “10x” thinking, whether it be to stop aging, design a self-driving car, or hook up a computer to a human brain. Nor will it stop Levinson, who claims, “with some longer term, moonshot thinking around healthcare and biotechnology, I believe we can improve millions of lives”.
It’s possible that the founders of Calico are simply starting to feel the signs of aging and are desperately hoping to stop death before it reaches them. On the other hand, as Harvard genetics professor and Sirtris founder David Sinclair believes, “If Google succeeds, this would be their greatest gift to humanity.”
Imogen is a journalist, writer, and filmmaker living in Toronto. Her work explores cross-cultural stories of immigration and gender. She writes copy for a creative design studio and the short film she wrote The Haircut, was a selection in the ReelWorld, Filmi, and Mosaic South Asian film festivals this year.