Google, Novartis agree on smart contact lenses

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Google, Novartis agree on smart contact lenses

The global search engine Google and Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis announced this week that they plan to create smart contact lenses for diabetics and eye-care patients.

Novartis announced on Tuesday that its eye-care division Alcon has entered into an agreement with a division of Google to in-license its smart lens technology for all ocular medical uses.

Google’s technology, which launched at the beginning of the year, measures glucose through contact lenses. Since showcasing its smart lens technology in January, the tech giant had been looking for a partner that could help introduce the technology to the consumer market.

The agreement with Google X, a team within Google that is devoted to finding new solutions to global problems, provides Alcon with the opportunity to develop and commercialize Google’s smart lens technology with the potential to transform eye care, Novartis said through a statement.

“We are looking forward to working with Google to bring together their advanced technology and our extensive knowledge of biology to meet unmet medical needs,” said Novartis CEO Joseph Jimenez. “This is a key step for us to go beyond the confines of traditional disease management, starting with the eye.”

“Our dream is to use the latest technology in the miniaturization of electronics to help improve the quality of life for millions of people,” said Sergey Brin, Google’s co-founder. “We are very excited to work with Novartis to make this dream come true.”

The smart lens technology involves noninvasive sensors, microchips and other miniaturized electronics, which are embedded within contact lenses. Novartis’ interest in this technology is currently focused in two areas.

It helps diabetic patients manage their treatment by providing a continuous, minimally invasive measurement of the body’s glucose levels via a smart contact lens, which is designed to measure tear fluid in the eye and connects wirelessly to a mobile device.

In addition, for those living with presbyopia and can no longer read without glasses, the smart lens has the potential to provide accommodative vision correction to help restore the eye’s natural autofocus on nearby objects in the form of an accommodative contact lens as part of refractive cataract treatment.

In Korea, which has a large aging population, production of medical devices exceeded 4 trillion won ($3.8 billion) for the first time last year.

Last year, soft contact lenses accounted for 128.1 billion won, while spectacle lenses for vision correction saw 121 billion won.

“Many people use contact lenses in Korea, but also the number of diabetic patients in the country has doubled over the past 10 years. ... Wearable smart contact lenses could mark a milestone in the health and IT industries,” said a spokesman for Novartis Korea.

The transaction remains subject to antitrust approvals.

“By combining Alcon’s leadership in eye care and expertise in contact lenses and intraocular lenses with Google’s innovative smart lens technology and groundbreaking speed in research, we aim to unlock a new frontier to jointly address medical needs,” said Jeff George, Alcon’s division head.


BY KIM JUNG-YOON [kjy@joongang.co.kr]

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