Google’s life sciences division has its first big mission: developing new ways to treat and manage diabetes. But in a sign that the company is serious about making real progress, it’s not diving into diabetes research alone. It is working with French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi, one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies. Signals suggesting Google wanted to do more than dabble in biomedical research were growing even before Google co-founder Sergey Brin said its life sciences operation would be spun out as an independent company under Google’s reorganization into Alphabet. Google has in recent months hired prominent scientists, including immunologists, neurologist and even nanoparticle engineers to feed its life sciences ambitions.
Diabetes is a logical starting point. The life sciences unit already has developed a contact lens for measuring blood glucose levels, and it recently signed a deal with medical equipment company Dexcom to develop a cheap and convenient continuous glucose monitoring device.
Google says this focus on diabetes marks a move away from a “tech-centric” approach to a “disease-centric” approach. But make no mistake: life sciences is still firmly a technology company. Google points out that sudden fluctuations in blood sugar cause the worst outcomes for diabetes patients, such as heart disease, strokes, and nerve damage. Through its data-centric work with Sinofi, Google hopes providing doctors and patients with better information could help prevent or mitigate these fluctuations.