If successful, the knowledge gained from this research may provide new tools and medical laboratory tests that pathologists can use in the management of geriatric patients
Google’s founders believe that analysis of the genomes of people who live to be 100 years old and are relatively healthy will allow them to solve the puzzle of human aging. They have funded a new company specifically to pursue this goal.
In the near future, it is unlikely that any of the science developed by this venture will lead to a diagnostic profile or clinical laboratory tests that pathologists can use to help clinicians who deal with the diseases associated with aging. But should the research team at Calico develop a better understanding of the dynamics of human aging, it would certainly be expected that this knowledge would be used to develop appropriate medical laboratory tests.
Multi-Million-Dollar Gamble for the New Company
Their latest gamble is a new company called Calico—short for California Life Company. This is an independent start-up shooting for the age-old dream of a fountain of youth. The project, which is being lead by biotech pioneer Arthur Levinson, aims to extend human life by about 100 years using health, wellness and age-related disease research to combat the disease called aging.
Calico is backed by Google Ventures. The idea was developed by its Managing Partner, Bill Maris. Of course, Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin are also involved. They are throwing hundreds of millions of dollars into launching another world-changing “moonshot.”
Calico to Marry High-Tech’s Big Data Techniques with Medical Research
Maris’ idea was rooted in his understanding of how Big Data analysis could be used to study the genomes of healthy older people who make it to 90 or 100 years old without encountering any significant health issues. The goal is to discover how, in aggregate, they differ from other people, noted an article published on slashgear.com.
Harvard Business School Professor Regina Herzlinger, Ph.D., noted in a story published by the Los Angeles Times that no past effort to mine vast amounts of data “has [not] yet yielded huge payoffs in healthcare.” But, she suggested that Google may have enough clout to speed medical breakthroughs, as well as push change in a healthcare system that is often resistant to change.
Big Data Techniques Will Come into Play
Interplay between high-tech and medical research communities is becoming more common. In fact, a number of companies are using big data to analyze health issues in large population studies. For example, researchers involved in the Cohorts for Heart and Aging Research in Genomic Epidemiology, or CHARGE are using big data techniques in a large-scale genetic sequencing project aimed at linking particular diseases and specific genetic variants. (See Dark Daily, “New Industry Emerging to Provide Cloud-based Computing Firepower Needed for Big Data Genomic Analyses of Healthcare and Medical Laboratory Information,”March 21, 2014.)
Calico’s Goal is Personal for Google Founders
“Illness and aging affect all our families,” declared Page in an announcement of Calico’s launch on Google’s blog. “With some longer-term, moonshot thinking around healthcare and biotehnology, I believe we can improve millions of lives.” Both Page and Brin have been touched by major illness.
Brin, whose mother had Parkinson’s disease, is also at high risk for this disease. Page suffers from a rare nerve disease that affects his voice by restricting movement of his vocal chords, noted the LA Times story.
While analysts caution investors to view Calico with skepticism, according to the LA Times article, the start-up’s heavy-weight, high-tech backers and scientific team are invested—both financially and emotionally—in their goal of overcoming human mortality. This is an idea that has long been a Silicon Valley obsession.
The Genius Driving Calico’s Anti-aging Goal
Page told Time Magazine in a story about Calico that, like Google, Calico’s approach will be unconventional. He is relying on Levinson’s genius to carry this off. Levinson, also a founding investor in Calico, is the former CEO of Genetech, Inc.. He is currently Chairman of the Board at both Apple, Inc., and Genetech, as well as a member of Google’s board of directors.
Even David Brailer, M.D., weighed in on the goal of defeating aging. He is CEO of Health Evolution Partners, a private equity firm that invests in the healthcare industry. Brailer told the LA Times, “Extending life is about as high as it gets on the human scale. It’s obviously a profoundly an important goal. It’s one of those things that is close to impossible, but you have got have got the right guy to tackle it,” he observed. “This is about Art [Levinson], about his ability to convene the right people to focus on an agenda that is realistic and bring a very pragmatic approach… I am intrigued by it and can’t wait to hear more.”
Assembling Accomplished Scientists
Levinson’s scientific team, noted an article published by nextbigfuture.com, includes a number of the most accomplished scientists in the fields of medicine, drug development, molecular biology and genetics.
Hal V. Barron, M.D., former Executive Vice President of Global Product Development and Chief Medical Officer at Hoffman-LaRoche, will serve as Calico’s President of Research and Development.
Cynthia Kenyon, Ph.D., one of the world’s foremost authorities on molecular biology and the genetics of aging and life extension, will serve as Calico’s as Senior Scientific Advisor. A UCSF American Cancer Society Professor and former President of the Genetics Society of America, her pioneering discovery of a single-gene mutation that could double the lifespan of healthy, C. Elegans roundworms sparked an intensive study of the molecular biology of aging, noted a report published by nextbigfuture.com.
Creating All-Star Scientific Research Teams
At a minimum, Calico represents a developing trend in healthcare research because it is engaging a variety of world-class scientists to participate at the board and executive levels. In that respect, it can be compared to the all-star teams assembled in professional sports. Furthermore, pathologists and clinical laboratory managers can expect competition in this space. In recent weeks, J. Craig Venter, Ph.D., has disclosed his plans to study human aging and has organized a new company, Human Longevity, Inc., to pursue this goal.
—By Patricia Kirk
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