Starting in 2012, X invested in several projects that had the potential to transform the detection, prevention, and management of disease. They were inspired by a common insight: technological advances like machine learning, the miniaturization of sensors, and wearable devices were likely to lead to innovations that could someday help health professionals be more proactive in their treatment of disease. Originally known as Google Life Sciences, this collection of projects ultimately graduated from X in 2015 to become the Alphabet company Verily Life Sciences.
Verily is putting technology and data science to work on diseases and other global health problems that stand in the way of people enjoying healthier, happier lives.
One of the most interesting possibilities at the intersection of technology, laboratory science, and medicine is the early detection of disease. The Verily team had a hunch that the medical breakthroughs of the future could be driven by teams that combined expertise from multiple disciplines, from biology to electrical engineering, chemistry to computer science, physics to materials design. These teams also had lots of tech know-how and long experience running laboratories, building diagnostic tools, and operating in clinical environments. The aim was to serve as an R&D lab for the life sciences industry, to create a bridge from “Is it possible?” to “Yes, it’s possible.”
An early focus at X was developing smaller, smarter, non-invasive devices that could make the monitoring and measurement of biomarkers and other health signals much easier. One investigation using miniaturized electronics (small chips and sensors the size of glitter) led to the development of a smart contact lens prototype with the potential to provide accurate measurements of biological markers in the human eye. This work has since been further developed in collaboration with Alcon, the eye care division of Novartis.
Another X team theorized that tiny technology inside the body could be put to work to detect disease earlier. They believed nanoparticles circulating in the blood could be built to find and attach to particular types of cells (such as circulating cancer tumor cells), and a device worn on the outside of the body like a bracelet could detect and measure the nanoparticles that found their targets. While at X, the team built prototypes and ran promising experiments to create, design, and manipulate these nanoparticles.
The team also worked on Liftware, a set of assistive devices for eating that help those with hand tremor or limited hand and arm mobility. Programmed sensors detect hand motion, and a small onboard computer electronically keeps the utensil and food level, regardless of how the user’s hand or arm twists, bends, or moves unexpectedly. The team believed this core technology could someday be turned into a device that can help doctors monitor symptoms more precisely.
The team at Verily wants to help address some of the most daunting challenges in healthcare. They combine expertise in science, engineering, and medicine with a startup spirit, and they collaborate closely with partners across the healthcare and life sciences industries who are as eager as they are to challenge convention and relentlessly pursue fresh breakthroughs against common diseases and other global health problems.