In 2013, Google launched Calico, a new health venture focused on understanding aging and how to beat it. “We should shoot for the things that are really, really important, so 10 or 20 years from now we have those things done,” Google CEO Larry Page told Time. But how exactly this endeavor would help humans live longer, healthier lives, in spite of a $1.5-billion investment, is still a mystery.
Four years after its launch, Calico is still an “impenetrable fortress.” People who work at Calico, as well as any of its outside collaborators, regularly stonewall the press, and no clinical trials or patents have been filed publicly under the Calico brand to date, reports Julia Belluz.
One of the biggest and most profitable companies in the world has taken an interest in aging research, with about as much funding as NIH’s entire budget for aging research, yet it’s a sealed, black box.
Strange for a company like Google that “prides itself for being a leader on transparency and for its open culture,” notes Belluz, especially when the norms of biomedical science are focused on openness and data sharing.
“For now, I think it’s safe to say Google has not solved aging. Or if it did, they haven’t told anybody,” says Belluz.
There are a few potential explanations for Calico’s secrecy, such as staying ahead of the competition but the one that makes the most sense, argues Belluz, has to do with the company culture. “Art Levinson, the CEO of Calico, is also chair of the board of Apple Inc. and was close to Steve Jobs, who was renowned for his clandestine approach to research and development and running a business,” notes Belluz.
Still “medicine is well on its way to becoming an information science,” as the TIME article noted, “And Google is very, very good with large data sets.”