Novartis officially has eyes for Google’s smart contact lenses.
The Swiss pharmaceutical giant announced today that its Alcon eye care division is joining forces with Google X, the search juggernaut’s top secret research lab, to develop contact lenses that would monitor diabetic patients’ glucose levels and autofocus the eyes of users who can’t read without glasses.
Neither mega company is sharing the financial particulars of the deal, which Novartis noted is still subject to antitrust approvals.
Under the new agreement, Novartis will expand on Google’s original prototype vision for the lenses, which are embedded with glitter-sized microchips and wireless glucose sensors, and an antenna finer than a strand of human hair.
Google designed its prototype to track diabetes sufferers’ blood glucose levels found in their tears using the super-tiny electronic components sandwiched between two layers of soft contact lens material. The data the lenses continuously collect could be transmitted in real-time to mobile devices, allowing them to be quickly and easily tracked by doctors and patients.
Some 382 million people across the world have diabetes, according to the International Diabetes Federation. For many of them, these smart lenses could provide a pain-free alternative to pricking their fingers, sometimes up to a dozen or so times per day, to gauge their blood sugar levels.
Novartis is sticking with Google’s original glucose monitoring vision for the smart lenses, but said it’s also interested in exploring potential applications that could help people diagnosed with presbyopia, an aging-related condition involving the inability to focus when reading and on near objects. The hope is to correct their vision either with auto-focusing lenses that sit on top of the eyes or perhaps even inside of them.
The first prototype smart lenses could arrive “early next year,” Novartis CEO Joseph Jimenez told Bloomberg, adding that Novartis could start marketing and monetizing the smart lenses in around five years. Of course, the lenses would only go to market after U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval. Google employees recently met with FDA officials who regulate medical devices related to eye health.
“The promise here is the holy grail of vision care, to be able to replicate the natural functioning of the eye,” Jimenez said in the Bloomberg report. “Think about a contact lens that could help the eye autofocus on that newspaper and then when you look up it would autofocus in the distance.”
There was no word from either company as to whether or not the lenses will include LED lights that could light up to alert wearers when their glucose levels cross above or below specific threshold levels. Google said it was investigating a possible LED-driven warning feature when it laid out its initial concept for the lenses.
And, we assume, and frankly hope, that the lenses won’t be able to snap pictures in the blink of an eye.
Related: How Google Is Taking Over Our Lives