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.

Image

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.

Image

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.

Tear

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.

Money to your ears - A great FREE investing resource for you

The best way to get your regular dose of market and money insights is our suite of free podcasts ... what we like to think of as “binge-worthy finance.”

Feb 1, 2016 at 5:03PM

Whether we're in the midst of earnings season or riding out the market's lulls, you want to know the best strategies for your money.

And you'll want to go beyond the hype of screaming TV personalities, fear-mongering ads, and "analysis" from people who might have your email address ... but no track record of success.

In short, you want a voice of reason you can count on.

A 2015 Business Insider article titled, "11 websites to bookmark if you want to get rich," rated The Motley Fool as the #1 place online to get smarter about investing.

And one of the easiest, most enjoyable, most valuable ways to get your regular dose of market and money insights is our suite of free podcasts ... what we like to think of as "binge-worthy finance."

Whether you make it part of your daily commute or you save up and listen to a handful of episodes for your 50-mile bike rides or long soaks in a bubble bath (or both!), the podcasts make sense of your money.

And unlike so many who want to make the subjects of personal finance and investing complicated and scary, our podcasts are clear, insightful, and (yes, it's true) fun.

Our free suite of podcasts

Motley Fool Money features a team of our analysts discussing the week's top business and investing stories, interviews, and an inside look at the stocks on our radar. The show is also heard weekly on dozens of radio stations across the country.

The hosts of Motley Fool Answers challenge the conventional wisdom on life's biggest financial issues to reveal what you really need to know to make smart money moves.

David Gardner, co-founder of The Motley Fool, is among the most respected and trusted sources on investing. And he's the host of Rule Breaker Investing, in which he shares his insights into today's most innovative and disruptive companies ... and how to profit from them.

Market Foolery is our daily look at stocks in the news, as well as the top business and investing stories.

And Industry Focus offers a deeper dive into a specific industry and the stories making headlines. Healthcare, technology, energy, consumer goods, and other industries take turns in the spotlight.

They're all informative, entertaining, and eminently listenable. Rule Breaker Investing and Answers are timeless, so it's worth going back to and listening from the very start; the other three are focused more on today's events, so listen to the most recent first.

All are available for free at www.fool.com/podcasts.

If you're looking for a friendly voice ... with great advice on how to make the most of your money ... from a business with a lengthy track record of success ... in clear, compelling language ... I encourage you to give a listen to our free podcasts.

Head to www.fool.com/podcasts, give them a spin, and you can subscribe there (at iTunes, Stitcher, or our other partners) if you want to receive them regularly.

It's money to your ears.

 


Compare Brokers