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Big Pharma Joins Google's Quest for Aging Antidote

By Rachelle Dragani
Sep 4, 2014 1:22 PM PT

Pharmaceutical giant AbbVie on Wednesday announced it was teaming up with Google-funded Calico, the life sciences initiative aimed at helping patients deal with diseases and other negative effects associated with aging.

Big Pharma Joins Google's Quest for Aging Antidote

Under the terms of the partnership, both AbbVie and Calico will invest up to $250 million in the project, with the possibility of another $500 million each. That money will go toward understanding and fighting diseases such as cancer or neurodegenerative disorders that are common in the aging population.

Any profits from the project will be split equally between the two companies.

The partnership is designed so that both companies can contribute their expertise to the venture. Calico will bring a world-class research and development facility focused on drug discovery, and AbbVie will use its pharmaceutical and health industry experience to further test drugs and therapies, as well as deliver them to patients.

The research facility will be housed in the San Francisco Bay area.

Fleshing Out Calico

Calico is run by Arthur Levinson, former CEO of Genentech, and research and development is spearheaded by Hal Barron, another former Genentech executive. So far, its goals have been tied to learning more about the biology that controls life span.

Levinson's and Barron's pharmaceutical backgrounds, plus the new partnership with AbbVie, indicate that Google plans to move Calico beyond the moon shot phase and into a more concrete development position, said Glen Hiemstra, founder and CEO of Futurist.

"What we know about Google is that they begin with very grand big ideas -- whether search, or solar, or bringing high-speed Internet to remote areas -- and then they quite seriously search for ways to make the idea real," he told TechNewsWorld.

"I would expect the play with Calico is no different," Hiemstra said. "They really do want to combat aging, and this [partnership] is not likely to be the only one as they look for ways to succeed."

First Steps

The collaboration certainly is a good beginning, said Guido Lang, assistant professor of computer information systems at Quinnipiac University.

"For Google, the investment isn't as much about delivering a financial return, as it is about learning the ropes of the game," Lang told TechNewsWorld.

"The procedures and regulations of drug development are complex, and a collaboration with an established player in the industry gives Google access to hard-earned insights and top talent. Google is in a financial position to experiment with new businesses, allowing it to adopt Wayne Gretzky's philosophy on risk-taking: 'You miss 100 percent of the shots you don't take.'"

If any company is in a position to make this initiative a success, it's Google, suggested Maureen Rheeman, senior strategist for Trends Digest. Google understands how to use its assets, and putting them toward research and development that potentially could lengthen human life could lead to exciting discoveries.

"All of the Google partnerships and acquisitions seem to revolve around the central question, 'If you had access to all of the world's data, what could you do with it?'" she observed.

"The deal with AbbVie might open up a treasure trove of pharmaceutical research data," Rheeman told TechNewsWorld, "that when paired with a wealth of global Google data nodes and repositories, can employ quantum computing, powerful data analytics and artificial intelligence engines to unlock previously undiscovered patterns and relationships that may hold answers for curing diseases."

Rachelle Dragani is a freelance reporter based in Brooklyn, NY. She enjoys staying on top of e-commerce deals, reporting on what new gadget is coming your way, and keeping tabs on anyone trying to hack into your info. Feel free to e-mail her at You can also connect with her on Google+.

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