Health

Calico enlists a genetics A-Team for its mysterious anti-aging venture

Above: Calico's chief executive Art Levinson

Image Credit: Gene.com

In September, Google announced a mysterious new venture to combat death itself.

Google’s top executives didn’t say much about the anti-aging initative, called Calico, except that former Genentech chief executive and Apple board-member Arthur Levinson would take the reigns. Calico will not be incubated at Google (the new offices are reported to be in the Bay Area), to make clear that it’s an independent entity.

Since then, a few additional details have come to light. We reported that Bill Maris of Google Ventures initially had the idea for Calico, which he brought to Google’s Sergey Brin and Larry Page. It’s still not yet clear whether these top executives will be involved in Calico’s daily operations, or will take a backseat.

In my original analysis, I surmised that Calico may provide research grants and funding to scientists working on innovative anti-aging drugs and other therapies. However, it’s looking increasingly likely that Calico will conduct its own research to uncover the root cause of how and why we age.

“We said then that with the right goals, culture and people, we believe we can make good progress on health and well being, in particular the challenge of staying youthful, healthy and disease-free for a longer time” Levinson wrote in a Google-Plus post Tuesday.

This week, Calico revealed that it is reaching out to genetics superstars. Its first big catch: Hal Barron will soon leave his post as the Chief Medical Officer at Swiss health care giant Roche to oversee research and development at Calico. Barron is a former chief medical officer at Genentech, where he served under Levinson for many years.

Despite the personal connection, it’s quite a shocking move that Barron would leave such a high-ranking job to join a nascent startup. Levinson must have some extremely ambitious goals in mind, or to borrow a term from Larry Page, “moonshots.”

“I’m confident that we are going to do some really great science on aging,” Levinson said at a Genentech event in Washington D.C. in October.

Levison’s other picks for Calico include Dr. Robert Cohen, a senior oncologist at Genentech, Cynthia Kenyon, a molecular biologist known for her genetic dissection of aging, and David Botstein, a genetics researcher at Princeton University. These brilliant medical minds will serve as scientific advisors at Calico.

“Calico is running the classic play of loading up the management team with the brand names in genetics,” said Owen Tripp, chief executive of medical technology startup Grand Rounds, and the former cofounder of Reputation.com. “Like all of us entrepreneurs who want to land healthcare ‘moonshots’, you need the gravitational pull of the stars.”

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