Why Does Novartis Want Google’s "Smart" Contact Lens?

Does Novartis think that Google’s ‘smart’ contact lens could become a viable medical device?

Jul 19, 2014 at 8:15AM

Novartis' (NYSE:NVS) Alcon eye-care division recently announced a new partnership to license Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) experimental "smart" contact lens. The lens, which could theoretically detect glucose levels via tears, was introduced seven months ago by Google X, the secretive facility behind ambitious projects like Google Glass, self-driving cars, and Wi-Fi hot air balloons.


Source: Google

Many people are skeptical about Google's smart lens. Steve Pacelli, Executive VP of Strategy and Corporate Development at glucose monitor maker DexCom (NASDAQ:DXCM), called the lens a "science project" during an interview at Mobihealthnews. Novartis' backing, however, has now given the idea a lot more credibility.

Why does Novartis need smart contacts?
Novartis has mentioned two possible uses for Google's smart lenses -- noninvasive glucose monitoring via tears and corrective vision needs.

For glucose monitoring, it would be another step toward needle-free diabetes care -- which also includes needle-free injectors and inhalable insulin. For corrective vision needs, Novartis believes that it can help patients with presbyopia -- an age-related condition where the eye fails to focus on nearby objects -- by helping the eye regain its ability to autofocus.

If approved, Google's smart contacts could fit in well with Alcon's wide array of surgical, pharmaceutical, and over-the-counter vision-care products. It could also complement Novartis' Lucentis, a treatment for diabetic macular edema (DME) -- a degenerative eye condition which can affect 10% of all diabetics.

Could smart contacts replace glucose monitors?
Novartis and Google's goal of continually monitoring glucose levels with smart contacts would help type 1 diabetics, who must check their glucose levels several times daily with pinpricks prior to insulin injections.

Medtronic (NYSE:MDT), DexCom, and other companies currently address this need with continuous glucose monitors (CGMs) that require the insertion of a thin sensor under the patient's skin. The sensor -- which must be replaced every seven to 10 days -- connects wirelessly to the CGM, setting off an alarm if glucose levels get too high or low.

Both Medtronic and DexCom are trying to turn CGMs into wearable "artificial pancreases" by connecting CGMs to automated insulin pumps. Medtronic's first generation artificial pancreas, the MiniMed 530G, was approved by the FDA last September. The MiniMed 530G continually injects insulin until blood-sugar levels hit a preset level, after which it shuts down for two hours. DexCom and Johnson & Johnson's Animas division have developed a competing device, the Vibe, which goes a step further by modifying insulin delivery according to blood sugar levels.


MiniMed 530G. Source: Medtronic

Google's smart lens could theoretically replace under-the-skin sensors in CGMs, making artificial pancreases even more convenient. But it might not work if a patient already needs to wear corrective lenses. Moreover, price and comfort issues might make it an impractical solution when compared to regular CGM sensors.

Looking beyond diabetes and vision care
Although Novartis only mentioned diabetes and vision care, continuous health monitoring through tears holds other possibilities as well.

In 2012, University of California Irvine scientists isolated a disease-fighting protein, known as lysozymes, in human tears to observe their bacteria-eating behavior. Detecting levels of lysozymes could possibly help diagnose eye diseases, while detecting unusual levels of other proteins could theoretically lead to the early detection of cancer.

Similar studies have been conducted in the Tear Science Lab in Bangalore, which is studying conditions like dry eye through tears. Dr. Rohit Shetty, the head of the lab, is also collaborating with doctors in Singapore to detect other underlying diseases from the proteins in tears.

Since human tears contain various lipids, proteins, mucins, electrolytes, and other molecules, Google's smart lens might eventually help doctors continually monitor patients to detect diseases early, especially if wireless connectivity to the cloud is added.


Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Foolish takeaway
In conclusion, Google's smart lens is just another piece of its mysterious health care puzzle, which also includes its biotech subsidiary Calico, Google Fit for personal fitness, Google Helpouts for telehealth, and Google Glass for hospitals.

A potential approval for Google's smart lens is still years away, but Novartis' backing could accelerate that process with more R&D support. The smart lens project also isn't as random as some believe -- the project's co-founder, Babak Parviz, had been working on the project since 2009 with Microsoft Research prior to joining Google. Google clearly believes that Parviz was onto something, and now Novartis does as well.

Therefore, Google's smart lens is one "moon shot" project that tech and health care investors should keep a close eye on.  

A huge "moon shot" investment opportunity
Let's face it -- the best investors consistently reap gigantic profits by recognizing true potential earlier and more accurately than anyone else. Let me cut right to the chase. There is a product in development that will revolutionize not just how we treat a common chronic illness, but potentially the entire health industry. Analysts are already licking their chops at the sales potential. In order to outsmart Wall Street and realize multi-bagger returns you will need The Motley Fool’s new free report on the dream-team responsible for this game-changing blockbuster. CLICK HERE NOW.

Leo Sun owns shares of Google (C shares). The Motley Fool recommends Johnson & Johnson, Google (A shares) and Google (C shares). The Motley Fool owns shares of Google (A shares), Google (C shares), Johnson & Johnson, and Medtronic. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

A Financial Plan on an Index Card

Keeping it simple.

Aug 7, 2015 at 11:26AM

Two years ago, University of Chicago professor Harold Pollack wrote his entire financial plan on an index card.

It blew up. People loved the idea. Financial advice is often intentionally complicated. Obscurity lets advisors charge higher fees. But the most important parts are painfully simple. Here's how Pollack put it:

The card came out of chat I had regarding what I view as the financial industry's basic dilemma: The best investment advice fits on an index card. A commenter asked for the actual index card. Although I was originally speaking in metaphor, I grabbed a pen and one of my daughter's note cards, scribbled this out in maybe three minutes, snapped a picture with my iPhone, and the rest was history.

More advisors and investors caught onto the idea and started writing their own financial plans on a single index card.

I love the exercise, because it makes you think about what's important and forces you to be succinct.

So, here's my index-card financial plan:


Everything else is details. 

Something big just happened

I don't know about you, but I always pay attention when one of the best growth investors in the world gives me a stock tip. Motley Fool co-founder David Gardner (whose growth-stock newsletter was rated #1 in the world by The Wall Street Journal)* and his brother, Motley Fool CEO Tom Gardner, just revealed two brand new stock recommendations moments ago. Together, they've tripled the stock market's return over 12+ years. And while timing isn't everything, the history of Tom and David's stock picks shows that it pays to get in early on their ideas.

Click here to be among the first people to hear about David and Tom's newest stock recommendations.

*"Look Who's on Top Now" appeared in The Wall Street Journal which references Hulbert's rankings of the best performing stock picking newsletters over a 5-year period from 2008-2013.

Compare Brokers