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Google X and Biogen Team up to Study Environmental and Biological Reasons for MS

January 28, 2015 - Written By Cory McNutt

The words Multiple Sclerosis, better known as MS, are enough to send shivers down my spine.  I have a brother with severe MS and it pains me to see him struggle with the disease.  He has tried just about every drug out on the market, done special food diets and even some theoretical procedures I cannot even write about – but when you get MS, you will try anything to rid your body of the disease. Google X Labs has not ventured into the healthcare field too much in the past – in January 2014, they announced a smart contact lens project where lenses were developed to measure the glucose in diabetes patient’s tears and ended up being licensed by Novartis AG in July.  Google X also bought a health startup Lift Labs, which make spoons that help to counteract the tremors of Parkinson’s patients.  Jumping in to help with MS is a great way for Google X Labs to use their resources.

Google is not looking to get into the pharmaceutical business of manufacturing drugs, but they do have the resources to study trends, using sensors, software and the ability to collect and sift through the data and analyze facts and figures.  Andrew Conrad, head of the Google X division, said in a telephone interview with our source, “Our central thesis is to change health care from being reactive to proactive.  We’re trying to understand disease at its onset and see if we can intervene early.” Biogen is a pharmaceutical company out of Cambridge, Massachusetts and they lead the market with five MS drugs.  Rather than seeing patients a couple times a year, they are trying to develop a way, possibly using the fitness band, Fitbit, to see if they would be able to collect data on a daily basis.  The compiling of data and running studies and projecting models is right up Google’s alley – the more data they collect, the easier it may be to see patterns or ways to get an earlier diagnosis.  Multiple Sclerosis affects 2.3 million people worldwide, yet in my little neck of the woods, I know several people afflicted by this dreaded disease.  There are still no known cures for MS, only drugs designed to try to suppress or reduce its symptoms.

This collaboration came out a chance meeting between Biogen’s Chief Executive Officer George Scangos and Conrad at a digital health conference.  Call it fate or call it a lucky coincidence, but this could be the beginning to fight this crippling disease – perchance to dream.  Please hook up with us on our Google+ Page and let us know if you applaud Google for using their facilities to fight health issues…as always, we would love to hear from you.