Look Out Biotech! Google's Parent Alphabet Sets Sights on Poaching Top Talent From Life Sciences and Healthcare

Look Out Biotech! Google's Parent Alphabet Sets Sights on Poaching Top Talent From Life Sciences and Healthcare April 6, 2017
By Mark Terry, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff

Alphabet, Google ’s parent company, is no stranger to the life sciences, although in the past the company has said it doesn’t want to be a healthcare company because of regulatory complexity. But a recent CNBC article notes that the company appears to be pushing deeply into the biopharma/life science industry, and creating some competition for top talent in the process.

Google/Alphabet’s Calico, which is focused on longevity and anti-aging, recently signed a five-year collaboration deal with C4 Therapeutics (C4T), located in Cambridge, Mass. Like many of Google’s moonshot companies, it’s cloaked in secrecy, but the deal did say Calico would “leverage C4T’s expertise and capabilities in targeted protein degradation to jointly discover and advance small molecule protein degraders as therapeutic agents to remove certain disease-causing proteins.”

Also in March, Google’s life science company, Verily Life Sciences, secured a 400,000-square-foot facility formerly occupied by Onyx Pharmaceuticals . Verily has approximately 400 employees on site and plans to hire up to 1,000 people.

At least some of Verily’s efforts are known—trying to develop a contact lens that can read glucose levels in diabetes patients, and an auto-focus contact lens for far-sighted people.

CNBC notes that another Google/Alphabet subsidiary, Sidewalk Labs, which has a focus of solving “big urban problems” recently posted job ads for health care positions. These include for engineers, a chief health officer and a head of community health for a project called Care Labs.

In December 2016, a Medium post written by Mat Balez, Shaina Doar and Lindsay Ullman, said, “As part of our thought experiment into the future of cities, Sidewalk’s Care Lab has been imagining how care delivery might look in the digital era. We believe the right data and tools can strengthen trust and connections between caregivers and patients. With more context, more coordination, and a better understanding of needs, care of the future can go beyond reactively treating medical conditions to proactively improving a person’s health.”

Which really doesn’t say much about what the company is actually doing. One can only assume that when Alphabet and its subsidiaries recruit their top life science talent they’re more specific about what their job duties entail.

And there does seem to be some concern on the part of other players in the field about how to compete with a company like Alphabet in terms of recruitment. Cynthia Yee, a principal of Windham Venture Partners, told CNBC, “Of all the tech companies, Alphabet has been most prominent in establishing new operations in life sciences. In the short-term, we’ll see some biotech and health startups struggle to match the salary and compensation that an established company like Alphabet can offer.”

Yee can’t decide if long-term it might be good for the industry, particularly if Alphabet and its subsidiaries start buying life science startups or develop more partnerships. The deal with C4T, for example, is certainly good news for a company that launched in December 2015.

But Steve Kraus, a biotech investor with Bessemer Venture Partners, isn’t as optimistic. “I worry about the war for talent,” he told CNBC. “Alphabet will make a real go of it, but if there’s power in a cluster.” He refers to the fact that in the U.S., one of the biggest biotech clusters is Boston and Cambridge. On the other hand, the other is the San Francisco Bay Area, which is pretty much the Silicon Valley area where Alphabet is settled.

Sabah Oney, a geneticist and executive with biotech startup Alector, thinks overall Alphabet’s presence is positive. “I’ve seen so many smart scientists get offers to consult or join Google for real money. Scientists are so underpaid and undervalued, so the competition can only be a good thing.”

Perhaps—if these companies are successful. Biotech startups are at least as volatile as tech startups with, as Alphabet well knows, the added complexities of a constantly changing and rigorous regulatory environment. The proof will be in successful product launches.

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