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Alcon will work on a project with Google Inc. on a potentially groundbreaking project to develop lenses with non-invasive sensors, microchips and embedded electronics to improve vision, monitor insulin levels for diabetics or restore the eye’s natural focus. Alcon’s parent company, Swiss drug maker Novartis Group said July 15 that its Fort Worth-based eye care unit will join with Google secretive X division to develop and market the smart contact lens for ocular medical uses. No terms of the transaction were released. The smart lens technology involves non-invasive sensors, microchips and other miniaturized electronics that are embedded within contact lenses.
Google’s new smart lens technology has the potential to help diabetic patients manage their body’s glucose and help people with presbyopia to restore their eyes’ natural autofocus on near objects, according to a news release. “We are looking forward to working with Google to bring together their advanced technology and our extensive knowledge of biology to meet unmet medical needs,” said Novartis CEO Joseph Jimenez in a statement.
“This is a key step for us to go beyond the confines of traditional disease management, starting with the eye.” In an interview with Reuters, Jimenez said Novartis hoped to be able to commercialize the product within about five years. Under the new agreement, Google X, a team within Google, will bring its expertise in miniaturized electronics, microfabrication and low power chips, while Alcon will provide the medical know-how in physiology and visual performance of the eye as well as commercialization of contact and intraocular lenses. Google X is a facility run by Google dedicated to making major technological advancement. It is involved inresearch such as Project Glass to develop an augmented reality head-mounted display and a self-driving car. The transaction remains subject to anti-trust approvals. The three Alcon businesses – surgical, pharmaceutical and vision care – generated net sales of $10.5 billion in 2013. Alcon has more than 25,000 employees worldwide, with operations in 75 countries and products available in 180 markets. – Robert Francis contributed to this report.