X invested in several projects with the potential to transform the detection, prevention and management of disease through technology. Originally known as Google Life Sciences, this collection of projects ultimately graduated from X in 2015 to become the Alphabet company Verily Life Sciences.
The Verily team believe future medical breakthroughs could be driven by teams with expertise from multiple disciplines, from biology to electrical engineering, chemistry to computer science, physics to materials design. The aim was to serve as an R&D lab for the life sciences industry, creating a bridge from “Is it possible?” to “Yes, it’s possible.”
An early focus was developing smaller, smarter, non-invasive devices that could monitor and measure biomarkers and other health signals. One team using miniature electronics (small chips and sensors the size of glitter) led to the development of a smart contact lens prototype with the potential to provide accurate measurements of biological markers in the human eye. This work has since been developed in collaboration with Alcon, the eye care division of Novartis.
Another group theorised that tiny technology inside the body could detect disease, believing nanoparticles circulating in the blood could be built to find and attach to particular types of cells (such as circulating tumour cells), and a device worn on the outside of the body like a bracelet could detect and record the nanoparticles which found targets. Prototypes and promising experiments to create, design, and manipulate these nanoparticles were developed.
Verily combines expertise in science, engineering and medicine with a startup spirit, and collaborates closely with partners across the healthcare and life sciences industries who are as eager as they are to challenge convention and relentlessly pursue fresh breakthroughs against common diseases and other global health problems.
A sample of ongoing projects:
Debug – raising millions of sterile male mosquitoes which do not bite or breed, using a naturally-occurring bacteria called Wolbachia that renders released males unable to have viable offspring with wild female mosquitoes. They are also developing software and monitoring tools to guide mosquito releases as well as sensors, traps and software to better determine which areas need to be treated and re-treated.
Liftware Steady – a set of stabilising and levelling handles and utensil attachments to help people with hand tremor or limited hand and arm mobility to eat using programmed sensors to detect hand motion. A small onboard computer electronically keeps the utensil and food level, regardless of how the user’s hand or arm twists, bends or moves unexpectedly.
Onduo – a virtual type 2 diabetes management program and joint venture with Sanofi to help people make better decisions about their day-to-day health, ranging from improved medication management to healthier habits and goals.
Smart Lens Program – soft contact lenses containing tiny Verily-designed integrated circuits, sensors, and wireless communication capabilities for self-contained wireless sensing on the surface of the eye.