Google Taps Novartis To Market Glucose-Reading Contact Lenses

1-19-2014 11-33-16 AM

Novartis, a Swiss-based pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturer, announces that it will work with Google to commercialize the tech giant’s recently unveiled Smart Lens technology. The announcement says that Novartis’s eye care division, Alcon, will license the Smart Lens technology from Google and the two will collaborate to further develop it into a medically viable consumer product. Financial terms were not disclosed.

Google announced its smart contact lens program in a January 2014 press release, claiming that the lenses were able to accurately monitor glucose levels in diabetics by analyzing the wearers tears. The lenses check the tears once-per-second using miniaturized sensors and an embedded sensor the thickness of a human hair. When out of range glucose levels are detected, an on board LED will illuminate, alerting the wearer of the problem. The lenses will also transmit an alert to a paired smartphone.

Pharmaceutical companies, including Novartis, have spent billions in R&D searching for non invasive methods of providing continuous glucose monitoring in the past, but all have come up short, leaving the estimated 341 million global diabetic population with little choice but to routinely test their blood through finger prick testing.

Hoping to be first to market, Novartis CEO Joe Jimenez said in an interview with Financial Times that he would be disappointed if it took more than five years to bring the lenses to market. However, he cautioned those that expect immediate product releases, explaining that “It’s not going to happen overnight. This will take a few years, as opposed to a few months.” Jimenez also predicts that the new technology could become a significant revenue stream for the company, predicting that the lenses could drive between $10 and $50 billion in sales over the next 10 years.

Beyond glucose monitoring, Novartis has expressed an interest in developing autofocusing smart lenses that would be able to bring a wearers field of view into focus automatically. This technology, which is reportedly within the scope of the partnership, would help Novartis address the needs of a people who cannot switch from focusing on far away objects to close objects.

When Google unveiled the smart lens project, many speculated that the technology would never amount to anything or find its way into a consumer product, but Google CEO Larry Page has been an outspoken advocate for commercializing his inventions. In a 2008 Fortune interview, he says “You don’t want to be Tesla. He was one of the greatest inventors, but it’s a sad, sad story. He couldn’t commercialize anything, he could barely fund his own research. You’d want to be more like Edison. If you invent something, that doesn’t necessarily help anybody. You’ve got to actually get it into the world; you’ve got to produce, make money doing it so you can fund it.”

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