Google has announced a new licensing deal with big pharmacy corporation Novartis to bring its “smart” contact lenses, with the power to help diabetics track their blood glucose level, to patients. The commercial launch of the lenses will take place through Novartis’ Alcon eyecare division and Novartis CEO Joe Jimenez told the Financial Times that a timeline for commercialization that took longer than five years would be a “disappoint[ment].”
Google and Novartis will also work on building a high-tech contact lens for those who have trouble switching from looking at something far away, to looking at something up close – meaning that these could potentially work for people who need bifocals and have limited options when it comes to contact-based solutions.
While most major tech companies are entering into the health market in some way, this partnership by Google represents a completely different approach to the potential opportunity. Novartis’ CEO told the FT that the market could be worth anywhere between $10 billion and $50 billion in the next ten years, and Google’s assistance in building not only blood glucose sensing eyewear (which addresses the ballooning potential client base of diabetics in the U.S.), but also the corrective eyewear market could help it capture a sizable piece of that pie.
While Google’s efforts building a smart lens with a built-in wireless chip and glucose sensor have grabbed most headlines so far, the really juicy opportunity is in corrective eyewear. If the company can build a contact lens that offers its wearer “autofocus” powers similar to those found in digital cameras for bringing scenes into tight focus, it can address a range of eye ailments and failings with a single solution, rather than requiring the kinds of fixed prescriptions that we use now, and that are often compromises rather than perfect solutions.
Corrective eyewear is a $10 billion market in the U.S. alone, and paired with Novartis, Google could actually figure strongly in that market going forward.