Novartis, through its Alcon eye-care division, intends to start clinical trials of an accommodative Google “smart” contact lens in human eyes next year, Novartis Chief Executive Joe Jimenez told the Swiss French-language newspaper Le Temps last week.
“This project is progressing well,” Jimenez told Le Temps reporter Willy Boder. “When we announced the agreement a year ago, I had said it would take about five years to see a product on the market. The calendar is light and we are already developing a technological lens prototype should be tested on humans in 2016.”
Novartis announced in July 2014 that Alcon entered into an agreement with the Google Life Sciences innovation team within Google Inc. to in-license its “smart lens” technology for all ocular medical uses.
In the Le Temps interview, reporter Boder asked Jimenez if he had any concerns about Google using medical data. “No,” Jimenez said. “We set up strict controls to ensure that privacy is respected with Novartis products. It is a precondition attached to each project.”
The smart lens technology involves non-invasive sensors, microchips and other miniaturized electronics that are embedded within contact lenses. Novartis’ interest in this technology focuses in two areas:
- For presbyopia to provide accommodative vision correction to help restore the eye’s natural function to autofocus on near objects in the form of an accommodative contact lens or intraocular lens as part of the refractive cataract treatment. An Alcon spokeswoman confirmed that Jimenez was referring to this application in the Le Temps interview.
- Helping diabetic patients manage their disease by providing a continuous, minimally invasive measurement of the body’s glucose levels via a contact lens designed to measure tear fluid in the eye and connect wirelessly with a mobile device to download data.
At the sixth annual Ophthalmology Innovation Summit @ AAO last year, Brian Otis, PhD, project Co-Founder of Google[x], the unit now known as Google Life Sciences, explained that the smart contact lens meets all requirements of a Google[x] project. “The three key ingredients are: one, it’s a huge problem that affects millions of people; the second key ingredient is that the solution is a radical solution that may seem like science fiction at the outset, like the driverless care; but the third key ingredient is breakthrough technology that we can actually apply to turn that science fiction into something that’s real.”
A goal of Google[x] innovators is to essentially make their innovations fail. “The smart contact lens project, we’ve been trying to make it fail for just over three years now and it’s still running strong,” Otis said.