Every company is a healthcare company now. At least, that's what it seems like sometimes.
Both Apple (AAPL 1.37%) and Google parent Alphabet (GOOG 1.56%) (GOOGL 1.90%) are working on technology to help manage diabetes and address other healthcare issues. Could Alphabet and Apple now be considered two of the best healthcare stocks around? Maybe so.
Alphabet has a couple of companies focusing on healthcare -- Calico and Verily. And these companies have forged partnerships with some big established healthcare companies along the way.
Calico was formed in 2013 to develop technologies that increase the human lifespan. The following year, AbbVie teamed up with Calico, investing $750 million to try to bring new therapies to market for patients with age-related diseases, including neurodegeneration and cancer.
In late 2015, Google Life Sciences changed its name to Verily Life Sciences. Verily is working with Dexcom (DXCM 0.07%) to develop miniaturized continuous glucose monitors for type 2 diabetic patients. It formed a joint venture with GlaxoSmithKline to create bioelectronic medicines that use tiny implanted devices to treat disease. The Alphabet business unit also formed other joint ventures with Johnson & Johnson to develop robotic surgical systems and with Sanofi to create technology that helps diabetic patients better manage their health.
Perhaps the most intriguing project that Verily is working on is its effort with Novartis to develop a smart contact lens that senses glucose level in tears. The goal is to have contact lenses that change color if diabetic patients' glucose levels aren't where they need to be.
No pain, big gain
CNBC recently reported that Apple has a secret initiative underway that's trying a different approach in monitoring glucose levels. Currently, patients must use finger sticks that pierce their skin four times per day to monitor their glucose levels. Apple's team is trying to develop a solution that uses optical sensors instead.
The ultimate goal is to fulfill Apple founder Steve Jobs' vision of wearable devices that could continually monitor important vital signs. Apple Watch already enables monitoring of heart rates. Apple has applied for a patent to send alerts to family or emergency staff if an Apple Watch wearer has heart problems, such as arrhythmia. However, monitoring glucose in a completely non-invasive way has been impossible so far.
Dexcom does have a continuous glucose monitoring system that interfaces with Apple Watch. However, the system uses a sensor that is placed underneath the skin. It also requires a minimum of two finger sticks each day for calibration. Apple's hope appears to be to eliminate the need for finger sticks entirely.
Apple is looking at other healthcare opportunities as well. Bloomberg reported last year that the company intends to transform its HealthKit app that runs on iPhones and Apple Watches from a primarily fitness application to a tool that helps improve diagnoses. Apple also bought a small company in early 2016, Gliimpse, which is developing software that stores electronic health records from multiple sources in one place.
Top healthcare picks?
There's no question that both Alphabet and Apple are trying to solve some of the most challenging problems in healthcare. But are the stocks good choices for investors wanting to profit from the growth in the healthcare industry? Yes and no.
The negative response isn't because Alphabet and Apple aren't solid stock picks. They are. However, in the near term, neither company will generate enough revenue from healthcare to rank the stocks among the best ways to ride the healthcare wave.
On the other hand, investors should look at the long run. If Alphabet and Apple are successful in achieving their goals, the financial opportunities in healthcare for both companies are enormous. The diabetes testing market could reach $17 billion by 2021. If Alphabet's smart contact lens pans out and Apple's optical sensor technology works, the two technology giants could also become healthcare giants.