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Novartis & Google[x] Join Forces Unlocking “A New Frontier”; Agreement marries Google’s advanced technology with Alcon’s eye care expertise - 2014 August  #5-7

Innovative ‘smart lens’ technology offers potential to transform eye care. (Novartis)

Basel, Switzerland, July 15, 2014: Novartis announced that its eye care division Alcon has entered into an agreement with a division of Google Inc. to in-license its ‘smart lens’ technology for all ocular medical uses. The agreement with Google[x], a team within Google that is devoted to finding new solutions to big global problems, provides Alcon with the opportunity to develop and commercialize Google’s ‘smart lens’ technology with the potential to transform eye care and further enhance Alcon’s pipeline and global leadership in contact lenses and intraocular lenses. The transaction remains subject to anti-trust approvals.
The agreement between Google and Alcon represents an important step for Novartis, across all of its divisions, to leverage technology to manage human diseases and conditions. Google’s key advances in the miniaturization of electronics complement Novartis’s deep pharmaceuticals and medical device expertise. Novartis aims to enhance the ways in which diseases are mapped within the body and ultimately prevented.
“We are looking forward to working with Google to bring together their advanced technology and our extensive knowledge of biology to meet unmet medical needs,” said Novartis CEO Joseph Jimenez. “This is a key step for us to go beyond the confines of traditional disease management, starting with the eye.”
“Our dream is to use the latest technology in the miniaturization of electronics to help improve the quality of life for millions of people,” said Sergey Brin, Co-Founder, Google. “We are very excited to work with Novartis to make this dream come true.”
Under the agreement, Google[x] and Alcon will collaborate to develop a ‘smart lens’ that has the potential to address ocular conditions. The smart lens technology involves non-invasive sensors, microchips and other miniaturized electronics which are embedded within contact lenses. Novartis’ interest in this technology is currently focused in two areas: 1- Helping diabetic patients manage their disease by providing a continuous, minimally invasive measurement of the body’s glucose levels via a “smart contact lens” which is designed to measure tear fluid in the eye and connects wirelessly with a mobile device; and 2- For people living with presbyopia, who can no longer read without glasses, the ‘smart lens’ has the potential to provide accommodative vision correction to help restore the eye’s natural autofocus on near objects, in the form of an accommodative contact lens or intraocular lens as part of the refractive cataract treatment.
The agreement marries Google’s expertise in miniaturized electronics, low power chip design and microfabrication with Alcon’s expertise in physiology and visual performance of the eye, clinical development and evaluation, as well as commercialization of contact and intraocular lenses. Through the collaboration, Alcon seeks to accelerate product innovation based on Google’s ‘smart lens’ technology.
“Alcon and Google have a deep and common passion for innovation,” said Jeff George, Division Head of Alcon. “By combining Alcon’s leadership in eye care and expertise in contact lenses and intraocular lenses with Google’s innovative ‘smart lens’ technology and groundbreaking speed in research, we aim to unlock a new frontier to jointly address the unmet medical needs of millions of eye care patients around the world.”
Many people with diabetes live with painful and disruptive daily routines for managing their glucose levels, such as wearing continuous glucose monitors embedded beneath their skin and finger-pricking to take a blood test. As a result, many people check less often than they should. This raises their risk of developing dangerous complications associated with uncontrolled blood sugar, such as kidney failure and blindness. Researchers have spent years looking for alternative, less invasive methods for measuring glucose levels in the body, such as via sweat, saliva, urine or tears.
Scientists have long known that tears contain glucose. Unfortunately, it’s extremely hard to study tear fluid in its natural state. It’s only available in very small quantities, and it’s difficult to collect without disrupting the eye’s natural state. This means it’s incredibly difficult to answer the kinds of questions you need to answer if tears are to be seen as a possible path to a new way of managing diabetes. For one, you need to be able to explore the correlation between tear glucose and blood glucose, e.g. what it is, how close, if/how anything affects it, if there’s lag time, etc. And you need to know the basics of tear glucose itself, e.g. how much there is, how it’s affected by factors like illness, exercise, sleep, a windy day, a humid climate, lying down vs standing up, etc.
Google wondered if miniaturized electronics - think chips and sensors so small they look like bits of glitter, and an antenna thinner than a human hair - might be a way to crack the mystery of tear glucose and measure it with greater accuracy. They hope a tiny, super sensitive glucose sensor embedded in a contact lens could be the first step in showing how to measure glucose through tears, which in the past has only been theoretically possible. The chip and sensor are embedded between two layers of soft contact lens material. A tiny pinhole in the lens allows tear fluid from the surface of the eye to seep into the glucose sensor. The prototypes they’re testing can take a glucose level reading once every second.
Google[x] is a team of inventors, engineers, and makers that applies audacious thinking and technology to big problems in order to change the world in a really positive way. You can think of them as a ‘secret lab’, but they think of themselves as a “moonshot factory.” Google[x] moonshots have three ingredients:
1) A really big problem in the world - something that, if solved, could make millions of people’s lives better. 2) A radical solution - a product or service that sounds like it’s straight out of science fiction. 3) Breakthrough technology - some kind of evidence that gives you a glimmer of hope that a solution might actually be within reach within a decade or so.
Everyone can apply one of the key principles of Google[x] to their work, even if they’re not working in science and technology. We (at Google[x]) say, “Aim for 10x, not 10%”. It’s often easier to make something radically better than incrementally
better. A couple of tips:
• Be willing to rethink a solution from the ground up, and have a healthy disregard for the impossible. Think weird! Ask questions from radically different perspectives.
• Set a goal big enough to inspire passion, bravery and creativity. It’s often easier to get great people to work with you on really hard problems than on easy ones.
(Sources: Novartis.com, Google.com)

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