Google is teaming up with pharmaceutical giant Novartis to develop a "smart" contact lens intended to replace reading glasses for people who are farsighted and glucose monitors for those with diabetes.
For the farsighted, the device would work like the autofocus of a camera, allowing them to focus on close-up things like the words in a book. It will be designed to work as a contact lens that is changed out regularly, or as an intra-ocular lens, permanently inserted into the eye during cataract surgery.
For diabetics, the lenses would replace regular finger sticks designed to read out a person's blood glucose level. Instead, the lens will "read" glucose levels in tears, sending information wirelessly to a handheld device that will warn patients when they need to eat or lower their glucose levels.
"These are issues that have been unmet medical needs for quite some time," said Novartis CEO Joseph Jimenez.
Novartis' eye-care division Alcon, based in Texas, will lead the development work, along with Google X, an innovation lab at the information company's Mountain View, Calif., headquarters.
Jimenez, who said he reached out to Google[x] to broker the deal, hopes the contact will be the first of many technologies the two develop together.
"It was very clear that there could be a very nice synergistic value between bringing high tech together with biology to solve some of the biggest health care issues that we're facing," Jimenez said.
The work is still preliminary, he said, with first testing in people expected to begin next year. It will be a few years at least before the lens can be considered for regulatory approval and reach customers.
He said a price had not been decided for the lenses, and would not disclose how much the two companies will be investing in the project other than to say that it will be "commensurate with the business opportunity."
More than 1.7 billion people worldwide have presbyopia, the medical term for farsightedness, and more than 380 million have diabetes, he said.