Google’s healthcare and life sciences division, soon to be under the Alphabet umbrella, has been attracting some of the best medical professionals around the world. However, it is not the promise of working at Mountain View and using the brightly colored bicycles, or even the lure of high salaries and flexible working, but instead it’s the drive and ambition behind the Google medical sections. One example is cardiologist, Jessica Mega, who resigned from Harvard Medical School to become the Chief Medical Officer of Google’s life sciences team. One example is how Google’s biology team is planning to create miniaturized electronic devices to collect and analyze more health data, more accurately, than is currently possible. Jessica says on the matter: “What I find compelling is the immersion of people with strong technology backgroundsâ€”hardware and software engineers – sitting next to people like myself. The impact feels very, very large.”
However, Jessica Mega is only one of the many scientists and medical professionals that Google recruited and announced in March. Last month, the Director of the US National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Maryland, Thomas Insel announced that he would be joining Google’s Life Sciences company to develop ways to use technology in mental health and Cynthia Kenyon, molecular biologist, last year joined Calico, a Google-backed biotechnology company in San Francisco, California. These medical professionals are pushing a new type of career path, that of working for a top drawer technology company rather than a hospital or traditional medical research facility. This is considered to be a growing trend. Eric Topol, Director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute in La Jolla, California, says this on the matter: “I have a feeling we’re going to see a lot more recruitment of leading lights.”
Another reason for scientists joining technology companies is because there is a different attitude within technology companies rather than in medical institutions. In technology companies, the attitude is to achieve results rather than write papers. Furthermore, the available resources are significantly greater within the technology sector rather than the medical sector. Google does not publish how much it invests into the medical and life sciences divisions but it is estimated at the one billion dollars point. This investment is already showing results, such as the smart contact lens project, the Baseline Study (a project aimed to collect big data about people in order to better understand health and disease, aiming to improve preventive care). Google Genomics is in the business of studying how to apply cloud computing to the study of genomics.
However, whilst Google is reaching out to leading scientists and medical professionals to lure them with the promise of sufficient funding to achieve results, some physicians argue that Google is not a likely destination for those medical professionals seeking in mitigating risk. Steven Hyman, the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard in Cambridge, Massachusetts, says that Google is, “not a likely destination for those interested in mitigating risk. After all, the life-science goals of the Googles, Apples and Microsofts of the world are likely to change in the near term as the companies explore an area that is new to them.”