Google's (GOOGL -0.39%) ultra-secretive X research group is credited with the development of Google Glass. This same unit may be cooking up something new involving contact lenses, biosensors, and biological data. This new project is part of Google's commitment to research and development and investments in projects that can lead to new market opportunities down the road.
Employees associated with Google X and who have done research on sensors placed on contact lenses that monitor the body's functions were scheduled to meet with FDA staff members who are in charge of regulating eye devices and diagnostic tests for heart conditions.
According to Bloomberg, at least three of the Google participants in the meeting have backgrounds in engineering or genetics. One in particular, Brian Otis, has worked on biosensors and holds a patent on biosensor-equipped contact lenses that are powered wirelessly. One of Otis' colleagues, Babak Parviz, wrote in a 2009 paper about the potential for "noninvasive monitoring of [a contact lens] wearer's biomarkers and health indicators, [which] could be a huge future market." In a video presentation on the subject, Parvix noted that a teardrop provides a variety of data to a sensor on different bodily fluids that can, for example, provide readings on cholesterol or glucose levels.
Are contact lens-based sensors the future of noninvasive continuous monitoring?
While a contact lens with a biosensor is still in its infancy, what is the market appeal of similar projects like Google Glass? Glass's first prototype was built around 2011, and last year Google made the latest edition available to developers or "explorers" who were able to sign-up for an invitation. As its 2014 consumer launch date approaches, market research firm Gartner believes that the product may initially appeal more to businesses than regular consumers. Gartner predicts that Google Glass can bring greater efficiency to field service workers involved with manufacturing, health care, and retail. According to its report, the cost savings could reach $1 billion per year by 2017 .
Like Google Glass, biosensors could have various practical applications. A 2011 article in the Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology discussed how contact lens-based sensors could help diabetics manage their disease in a convenient and painless manner. In the area of glucose monitoring, other innovative diagnostic tools have had both hits and misses.
Abbott Laboratories (ABT 0.89%) had problems with its Freestyle glucose monitoring system, which led to recalls of 20 lots of its Freestyle and Freestyle Lite test trips due to inaccurate glucose readings. Abbott confirmed that its newer Freestyle models did not have this problem . The glucose monitoring device is a part of the diabetes business that saw third quarter sales rise 0.4 %. Abbott's diabetes business has had better performance overseas, with international sales growth of 8.7%. Abbott Diabetes Care's glucose monitoring meters are used in both home and hospital settings.
Medtronic's (MDT 1.69%) diabetes business is also invested in continuous glucose monitoring, or CGM. In 2009, the company acquired PreciSense A/S, a Danish company focused on glucose monitoring technologies. The company's glucose monitoring system, MiniMed 530G, is unique in that it combines both glucose monitoring and an insulin pump . Meanwhile, a different CGM device known as the Sentrino system which is used in hospital critical care units received the all clear in Europe in December 2012.
For Medtronic's diabetes business, fiscal 2014's second quarter worldwide revenues were $393 million; this represents an increase of 4% from the same period in fiscal 2013. The MiniMed 530G, which received approval in Sept. 2013, could provide a turnaround for the company's diabetes business, which has seen three quarters of declining revenues. Overall revenues for the quarter were $4.2 billion, up 2.4% over the second quarter of fiscal 2013 .
My Foolish conclusion
According to a report by Business Wire, the global market for biosensors was estimated to be worth $8.5 million in 2012 and could double by 2018. The U.S. takes the largest piece of the pie, with a value of approximately $2.6 billion. If Google is able to develop a safe and functional medical device that uses biosensors it would come as no surprise. Judging by the time frame it has taken Google Glass to reach the market, it could be available sooner than you think.