Google’s Immortality Seeking Calico Project Recruits Another A-List Genetics Scientist


In September 2013, Google CEO Larry Page pulled back the curtain on a new project the company had been secretly working on called Calico. Calico is what Google calls a “moonshot” project, something so fundamentally disruptive that, if successful, it could change the daily lives of millions of people. The self-driving car is a moonshot project, and project Loon, Google’s effort to bring wi-fi internet to everyone, is another. For Calico, the goal is to extend human life indefinitely, and Google is approaching the idea with the same sense of purpose it has approached its other moonshot projects.

Initially, it was assumed that Google would pursue this goal by creating a grant program to drive research toward the topic. Most discounted the idea that Google would build a staff and research facility capable of pursuing world-class medical research by itself, but this is exactly what Google did.

Since its September announcement, Google has been on a hiring spree, recruiting some of the worlds foremost thinkers in genomics, pharmaceuticals, and biology.

  • Arthur Levinson, former Genetech CEO will lead the Calico project. Levinson currently holds advisory roles on the boards of Apple, La Roche, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Genetech, Memorial Sloan – Kettering Cancer Center, and NGM Biopharmaceuticals.
  • Hal Barron was recruited away from his position as the CMO of Roche. He also worked as the CMO at Genetech, and worked with Levinson for years in that capacity. He will head up the research and development effort at Calico.
  • David Botstein, a world-famous Princeton geneticist, has left his teaching and research position with Princeton to begin work at Calico full-time.
  • Robert Cohen, previously the senior Oncology fellow at Genetech, has taken a full-time position with Calico.

This week, the team grows stronger as Cynthia Kenyon announces that she will leave her position with The University of California, San Francisco to join the Calico team. Kenyon is a high-profile biochemist and biophysicist. She has worked with the Calico team since its early days, but will now work on the project full-time. During her time at UCSF, Kenyon researched the effect that manipulating key gene’s had on extending life and halting the aging process of certain roundworms.

The core team at Calico is certainly shaping up to be formidable, but few details have emerged on exactly what the researchers will focus on in their effort to extend human life. For now, the project only proves that Google has the cash and the willingness to go all in and put a world-class team behind event its most audacious ideas.

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