Google is launching a new company with the absurdly ambitious objective of extending our lives.
The company is called “Calico,” and it will be run by Arthur Levinson, chairman and ex-CEO of biotech company Genentech.
Google gave exclusive access to Time magazine for a story on the new venture. Underscoring the scope of Google’s ambition, the cover of Time asks, “Can Google solve death?” That, in a nutshell, is the goal of Calico.
Sounds like a joke, but it’s not.
On Google+, Google CEO Larry Page wrote, “OK … so you’re probably thinking wow! That’s a lot different from what Google does today. And you’re right. But as we explained in our first letter to shareholders, there’s tremendous potential for technology more generally to improve people’s lives. So don’t be surprised if we invest in projects that seem strange or speculative compared with our existing Internet businesses. And please remember that new investments like this are very small by comparison to our core business.”
Levinson is current the chair of Apple’s board. He has the blessing of Apple CEO Tim Cook to start this new Google-y company. In a release, Cook said, “For too many of our friends and family, life has been cut short or the quality of their life is too often lacking. Art is one of the crazy ones who thinks it doesn’t have to be this way. There is no one better suited to lead this mission and I am excited to see the results.”
So, how is Calico going to go about extending our lives, and perhaps, ultimately curing death?
Page doesn’t lay out any specific plan. On Google+ he says, “it’s still very early days so there’s not much more to share yet. Of course when Art has something more substantial to communicate (and that will likely take time), he’ll provide an update.”
Time reports, “While the company is holding its cards about Calico close to the vest, expect it to use its core data-handling skills to shed new light on familiar age-related maladies. Sources close to the project suggest it will start small and focus entirely on researching new technologies.”
It’s fine Calico doesn’t have an exact plan. It’s tackling a huge challenge. If there were some straight line, simple solution, this would have been cured long ago.
This is an outlandish project, but it’s the kind of project Page loves. He wants to tackle gigantic problems. That’s why Google is doing self driving cars, and balloons floating in the air with Internet connections.
Google which boatloads of cash, and limitless ambition sees itself as the only company willing to take big risks like this.
“I’m not proposing that we spend all of our money on those kinds of speculative things,” says Page in an interview with Time, “But we should be spending a commensurate amount with what normal types of companies spend on research and development, and spend it on things that are a little more long-term and a little more ambitious than people normally would. More like moon shots.”
Here’s the full, official press release:
MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA – September 18, 2013 – Google today announced Calico, a new company that will focus on health and well-being, in particular the challenge of aging and associated diseases. Arthur D. Levinson, Chairman and former CEO of Genentech and Chairman of Apple, will be Chief Executive Officer and a founding investor.
Announcing this new investment, Larry Page, Google CEO said: “Illness and aging affect all our families. With some longer term, moonshot thinking around healthcare and biotechnology, I believe we can improve millions of lives. It’s impossible to imagine anyone better than Art—one of the leading scientists, entrepreneurs and CEOs of our generation—to take this new venture forward.” Art said: “I’ve devoted much of my life to science and technology, with the goal of improving human health. Larry’s focus on outsized improvements has inspired me, and I’m tremendously excited about what’s next.”
Art Levinson will remain Chairman of Genentech and a director of Hoffmann-La Roche, as well as Chairman of Apple.
Commenting on Art’s new role, Franz Humer, Chairman of Hoffmann-La Roche, said: “Art’s track record at Genentech has been exemplary, and we see an interesting potential for our companies to work together going forward. We’re delighted he’ll stay on our board.”
Tim Cook, Chief Executive Officer of Apple, said: “For too many of our friends and family, life has been cut short or the quality of their life is too often lacking. Art is one of the crazy ones who thinks it doesn’t have to be this way. There is no one better suited to lead this mission and I am excited to see the results.”
You may have seen the news (http://goo.gl/KjRE4q) that Google and I will be starting a new company focused on health, aging and well-being, called Calico. I’m honored and incredibly enthusiastic about this opportunity, and eager to get started.
I suspect there are a lot of questions, such as how this came about, what we hope to accomplish, and why “Calico.” When I served on Google’s board, +Larry Page and I got to know each other well—and when he and Bill Maris approached me about a venture that would take the long term view on aging and illness, I was deeply intrigued. For example, what underlies aging? Might there be a direct link between certain diseases and the aging process? We agreed that with great people, a strong culture and vision and a healthy disregard for the impossible, we could make progress tackling these questions, and improving people’s lives.
Calico is an abbreviation for the “California Life Company,” but if you’re thinking about cats, we like the old saying that they have nine lives…
I want to thank several people who have been supportive of this venture, especially Tim Cook, Franz Humer, Bill Maris and my family.
Finally, this would not be possible without Larry, whose focus on outsized improvements is motivating and inspiring, and I couldn’t be more excited about what lies ahead.