Healthcare’s Odd Couple: Tech and Health Science

In the ever-evolving world of healthcare mergers and moves, a recent announcement from two very different companies has industry insiders talking. Biopharmaceutical company AbbVie and Calico, a life-sciences company funded by tech company Alphabet (owner of Google), announced a three-year extension of a collaboration to develop therapies for age-related diseases.

This isn’t the only time a tech company has jumped into the healthcare industry. We’ve written before about Amazon’s interest in healthcare, the use of artificial intelligence changing healthcare, and other tech companies hopping in to shake up the scene. The brains behind Google have been focused on healthcare and science for a few years now, and extending the collaboration between the two companies will allow for a continuation of the work that is already under way.

The pair first teamed up in 2014, and are working with diseases that include cancers and neurodegenerative disorders. The pair have been dubbed the “Odd Couple” by journalist Keith Speights. He writes in the Motley Fool:

“AbbVie and Alphabet working together might seem like the healthcare equivalent of the classic TV comedy ‘The Odd Couple.’ On the surface, at least, a pairing between one of the biggest drugmakers in the world with one of the largest technology companies in the world seems unusual.

A few years ago, however, Alphabet (which then was known as Google) decided to jump into the healthcare space head first. The company's Google X team had several projects focusing on healthcare-related initiatives. Its Google Ventures venture capital arm invested in quite a few healthcare companies. Some of those early initiatives led to the founding of Google Life Sciences, which was renamed as Verily in late 2015.

In 2013, though, Google announced that it was starting a new company, Calico, with a really ambitious goal to tackle aging and extend how long humans can live. … The recent extension of the collaboration agreement for another three years indicates that both parties are happy with their working relationship so far.”

Market Insider notes that the team collaborates on discovery-stage research and development. The partnership has produced two dozen early-stage programs addressing disease in oncology and neuroscience, and offered new insights into the biology of aging.

A 2017 article from Fortune magazine shares that the science of aging is the largest draw. The strategic minds at Google hoped that partnership would focus on health and well-being, in particular the challenge of aging and associated disease. This prompted a Time magazine cover with the sensational question: Can Google Solve Death? Answer: Probably not. But they can learn about how caloric intake and cellular aging affect the behavior of cells, and how they begin to break down. Studying how cells mature and age could lead to an understanding of how to slow down the human aging process.

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Image property of TIME

As Motley Fool notes: “But imagine what could happen if Calico does achieve its goal of cracking the code for aging and develops therapies that extend the human life-span. It could rival -- and likely even surpass -- the impact of man's first step on the moon.”

Leading longer and healthier lives thanks to the pairing of technology and science is an exciting premise. Now there are three additional years for scientists to continue to uncover the root of that premise.

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