Google's Verily Pumps 1.4 Billion Euros Into Ireland; Expansion to Create 400 New Jobs

Google’s Verily Pumps 1.4 Billion Euros into Ireland; Expansion to Create 400 New Jobs January 17, 2017
By Mark Terry, Breaking News Staff

Google ’s umbrella company, Alphabet, has reportedly invested 1.4 billion euros into the Irish subsidiary of Verily, its life science division.

Verily was the first of Google’s companies to stand alone under the Alphabet umbrella. Although Verily’s ambitions are broad—an apparent merger of big data and healthcare—the specifics aren’t always as clear. Two of its announced projects are the development of a contact lens that can monitor a diabetic’s blood glucose level and another contact lens that automatically focuses for individuals with far-sightedness.

The auto-focus lens is under development with Novartis ’s Alcon eye care unit.

The most recent investment, if it occurred, is consistent with the company’s plans to expand in Ireland. SiliconRepublic reports that Google is in talks to rent the Velasco building in Dublin, which is currently under construction. The Velasco building is 51,000 square feet on Grand Canal, and is owned by Irish Life Investment Managers.

That shift would bring in 400 jobs to Dublin. Google already employs 6,000 people there. Of them, 3,000 are direct employees, and 3,000 are full-time contractors in Dublin. Dublin facilities include offices on both sides of Barrow Street, including in the Montevetro building, offices in EastPoint, and two data centers in west Dublin.

Verily has indicated that Ireland operations would be used to facilitate “collaboration with our EU-based partners.” Nothing has been said of any tax advantages. Ireland is often used as tax domiciles due to its lower corporate tax rate.

Verily has several European partnerships, including with London, UK-based GlaxoSmithKline and Paris, France-based Sanofi . With GSK, it is working to develop bioelectronics medicines that “harness electrical signals in the body to treat chronic disease.” It is working on diabetes-related technology with Sanofi.

There are hints that Verily is finding it more difficult to accomplish its lofty goals than expected. Originally, it had indicated it expected its Novartis product, the auto-focus lens, to start clinical trials in 2016. Although the company’s chief executive officer, Joe Jiminez, said it is “progressing steadily,” no clinical trials have yet been announced. It has also declined to say when human trials of the blood sugar-level contact lens might start, if ever. In November 2016, Novartis said that it had missed its goals because the lenses were a “very technical complex process” and that Verily and Alcon were “learning as we go along.”

Engadget wrote at that time, “That’s not totally surprising. Both lenses were considered long-term bets on the future of health care, and there was no guarantee that they’d be ready all that quickly. The question is whether the hurdles are relatively modest, or if these smart contact lenses are still years away from reaching your eyes.”

Many experts on diabetes are even more skeptical. John Smith, a former Johnson & Johnson executive and an expert on noninvasive glucose technologies, told STAT earlier in 2016 that researchers have tried for decades to measure glucose from sweat, saliva and tears without success. None of those fluids, he said, could produce blood sugar readings that matched up with blood-glucose levels. He also called the contact lens efforts “faith-based science.”

Google is a dramatically successful company, but few if any of its moonshot products have hit the market. Last summer, STAT reported how three of Verily’s programs appeared to be hitting critical failures. One was a Star Trek-like “Tricorder” diagnostic device, which former employees say was a failure.

The other two are the glucose-sensing contact lens and a “baseline” study of human health.

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