Business

Google taps former Genentech CEO to lead Calico, its new health & antiaging initiative

Above: Google chief executive Larry Page made the announcement on his blog

Image Credit: Google Zeitgeist video
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Google chief executive Larry Page just announced a new venture, Calico, to challenge aging and associated diseases.

Biotech pioneer Art Levinson has been named Calico’s chief. Levison is the former CEO of life sciences giant Genentech and a chairman at Apple. Calico will be based in the Bay Area, not far from Google’s Mountain View headquarters. Details of the funding and headcount have not yet been made public.

Indeed, not much has been revealed yet about this shadowy new initiative. Page provided some details in a blog post Wednesday, and Google issued a press release, primarily extolling Levinson’s leadership qualities.

In his blog, Page explains his big vision for Calico, and his reasons for getting behind the initiative. “These issues affect us all — from the decreased mobility and mental agility that comes with age, to life-threatening diseases that exact a terrible physical and emotional toll on individuals and families,” he writes.

Josh Stevens, chief executive of a health and corporate startup called Keas, is optimistic about Google’s foray into health. “What Google has announced today with Calico tackles additional, critical issues — undiagnosed health issues, finding better treatments, and cures for diseases such as cancer and Alzheimer’s Disease,” Stevens told me. “Calico is stepping into the uncharted territory of antiaging medicine.”

The press release also includes a statement from Apple’s Tim Cook, who refers to Levinson as “one of the crazy ones.”

“For too many of our friends and family, life has been cut short or the quality of their life is too often lacking. Art is one of the crazy ones who thinks it doesn’t have to be this way. There is no one better suited to lead this mission, and I am excited to see the results.”

Earlier this week, Page sat down with Time’s Harry McCracken to discuss Google’s core philosophies. He said it’s not enough to “get very big … and just do one thing.”

It’s worth noting that Google’s first foray into medicine, Google Health, fell flat in 2012. It was an attempt to bring electronic health records to consumers. The initiative failed due to a lack of product functionality and not nearly enough marketing. Page and team have likely learned from these mistakes.

Google isn’t holding back with its second gamble, which Page refers to as “10x.” Recent endeavors include “Project Loon,” a hot air balloon Wi-Fi hotspot, and of course, driverless cars.


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