About a year ago, Google launched a company - Calico, shorthand for California Life Company. Calico’s lofty stated ambitions? To extend life and, ultimately, to cure death.
Calico’s all-star executive cast includes the legendary Dr Arthur Levinson (current chairman of Apple), Peter Thiel (former CEO and co-founder of PayPal, Facebook financial backer, etc.), and Princeton geneticist Dr David Botstein and its vice president for aging research, Dr Cynthia Kenyon. Of course the world’s most famous futurist, Ray Kurzweil, is also involved (currently he just happens to be director of engineering at Google).
That all sounds impressive on paper, but in a more tangible development, Calico recently announced that they have struck a billion-dollar deal with biopharmaceutical company AbbVie to better understand and eventually cure neurodegenerative disorders include Alzheimer’s, ALS and Parkinson’s disease.
And it doesn't sound like a guns-blazing approach: Calico and AbbView are taking the long view, with their idea being to create a research centre where scientists can focus on the cellular and molecular mechanisms of these disease before developing possible treatments. Shortly after inking the enormous deal, Calico also licensed a group of neuroprotective compounds in the P7C3 class from 2M Companies; these compounds are known to help to regulate the metabolism of nerve cells and are thought to potentially play a role in countering neurodegenerative disorders.
Recent attempts to develop treatments for Alzheimer's, in particular, have been failing spectacularly; of course, any company which can develop an effective treatment for this ailment will be able to cash in the industry's biggest lottery ticket (which makes me worry about how this might be monetised…will this hypothetical treatment it be affordable? will Calico monopolise the market?)
Anyway - I am very, very excited (and comforted) by the prospect of a large amount of money being pumped into neurodegeneration research. Because while it’s all very well for human life expectancy to be inching towards 100, the years we'd gain would be pretty meaningless if they were characterised by dementia and decrepitude, and we had zero quality of life. So kudos to Google for thinking big!
These like-minded tech bigwigs are making vast investments — on the order of Carnegie’s or Rockefeller’s cultural ones — in the science of what kills us. Not the cause of death that stops our hearts, but rather the underlying business of genetic malfunctions and bacterial incursions, the general entropy of our biological systems.