Google funds new company, Calico, to tackle aging

Posted by: on Sep 19, 2013 | No Comments

LP-googleThe ambitious quest to reverse the aging process and extend human life will be pursued by a new company called Calico that is being financed by Google Inc.

Based in the Bay Area, not far from Google’s headquarters, Calico will be making longer-term bets than most health care firms. “In some industries, it takes ten or 20 years to go from an idea to something being real. Healthcare is certainly one of those areas,” said Google CEO Larry Page in an interview with Time magazine. “Maybe we should shoot for the things that are really, really important so ten or 20 years from now we have those things done.” Page, 40, is hoping Calico can find ways to slow the aging process and other associated diseases.

Google is keeping its exact plans close to the vest. But it is likely to use its data-processing might to shed new light on age-related maladies. Sources close to the project suggest Calico will start with a small number of employees and focus initially on researching new technology.

That approach may yield unlikely conclusions. “Are people really focused on the right things? One of the things I thought was amazing is that if you solve cancer, you’d add about three years to people’s average life expectancy,” Page said. “We think of solving cancer as this huge thing that’ll totally change the world. But when you really take a step back and look at it, yeah, there are many, many tragic cases of cancer, and it’s very, very sad, but in the aggregate, it’s not as big an advance as you might think.”

Calico will be run by former Google board member Arthur Levinson, best known as the ex-CEO of biotechnology pioneer Genentech. Levinson resigned from Google’s board nearly four years ago after the U.S. Federal Trade Commission opened an investigation into whether his overlapping role on Apple Inc.’s board created conflicts of interest that might lessen competition between rivals. Levinson will remain chairman at Apple and Genentech while he runs Calico.

Tackling daunting challenges outside search is something Page and his longtime partner Sergey Brin have always wanted to do since they founded Google 15 years ago. Google’s success empowered them to realize that ambition.

Some ventures have crashed and burned. One of them, called “Google Health,” aimed to set up a system to store digital medical records around the world. Page pulled the plug on Google Health shortly after he became CEO in April 2011.

Google and its venture capital arm have invested at least $10 million in 23andme, a genetic testing startup founded by Brin’s wife, Anne Wojcicki.

“For me, it was always unsatisfying if you look at companies that get very big, and they’re just doing one thing,” Page said. “Ideally, if you have more people and more resources, you can do more things, get more things solved. We’ve kind of always had that philosophy.”

Calico is in line with Page’s oft-stated belief that the company should be aiming not just to make the world a little better, but a lot better. Page urges Google employees to engage in so-called 10x thinking—aspiring to create inventions which are better than anything that already exists by at least an order of magnitude.