Google is no stranger to making headlines, but the recent reshuffle to a holding company model – under the Alphabet umbrella – and spinoff of the Life Sciences Unit has no doubt piqued the attention of the health care industry.
Google has been working for a few years to establish a solid presence in health. Remember Google Flu Trends and Google Health? Or the use of Google Glass by surgeons in the OR? In fact, health is an area of passion for co-founders Sergey Brin, whose mother suffers from Parkinson’s disease and Larry Page, who struggles with vocal cord paralysis. In 2013, the company created the Life and Sciences division at Google X, with the goal of developing major health care innovations. Since then, we’ve seen the creation of Calico, focused on the biology of aging; Google Ventures, which has invested more than one-third of its funds in health care; and a slew of partnerships with big pharma – most notably, the collaboration with Novartis to develop a smart contact lens for diabetes.
All signs point to the fact that we should be taking this announcement seriously. But Google isn’t the first, and certainly not the only, tech company to shift their focus. We’ve seen a number of non-traditional pharma companies – Honeywell, Apple, Samsung and Intel to name a few – carve their own paths in health care.
So, what does this mean for health care?
Tech companies know they can’t compete head-to-head with the big pharma and medical device giants, nor is that their end goal. They shouldn’t be viewed as competition. But the playing field is ripe with opportunity for partnerships and collaboration. In addition to the Novartis project, Google also recently partnered with Quest Diagnostics to enhance physician-patient communications by providing patients with secure electronic access to their diagnostic laboratory testing information from more than 100,000 physicians nationwide. Apple’s introduction of the HealthKit has been embraced by medical facilities around the globe and FitBits are becoming an integral part of many clinical trials.
The era of digital health is front and center. It’s not coming, it’s not on the horizon, it’s here. Google didn’t pioneer it, but they are a company that understands that health care is an industry that is significantly lagging in technology innovation. The convergence of tech giants and life sciences companies will help move new technologies from early stage R&D, to clinical testing, to commercialization. This combination of resources has the power to transform the health care industry, and the way we detect, prevent and manage disease. Health care organizations need to embrace this, not fear it.
As Page said in his blog post about the announcement, “We’ve long believed that over time companies tend to get comfortable doing the same thing, just making incremental changes. But in the technology industry, where revolutionary ideas drive the next big growth ideas, you need to be a bit uncomfortable to stay relevant.”
Tech giants color outside the lines and can bring this disruptive type of thinking to health care. So big pharma, it’s time to get uncomfortable for the sake of innovation… and your bottom line!