On Monday, Google announced a partnership with Novartis to develop its smart lenses, which will be contact lenses that can measure the user’s glucose levels. Google will design the technology, which will then be licensed and commercialized by Novartis’ Alcon eye care division.
Novartis and Alcon
This partnership is significant for Novartis, whose CEO Joe Jimenez says that the company is moving towards involving patients in the process of managing their own health to potentially lower the cost of chronic disease management. The smart lens technology may become a “large revenue stream” for Novartis [Wall Street Journal]. In fact, Helvea analyst Olav Zilian approves of Google’s partnership with a leader in the contact lens market (Alcon posted net sales of $10.5 billion in 2013, close to a fifth of overall net sales). He rates Novartis a buy.
More on the lenses themselves: Google has described the electronics within each lens as “so small they look like bits of glitter.” More importantly, these lenses could provide a more comprehensive and less invasive method to monitor glucose levels for around 382 million people in the world with diabetes. So how do glucometers currently work?
They consist of a handheld device that measures electric current and a disposable paper strip. The strip contains many layers that incorporate the enzyme glucose oxidase, potassium ferricyanide, and electrodes, with extra layers in between for protection.
Chemical Mechanics of Current Glucometers
- The user pricks his or her finger and places a drop of blood on the test strip, which then goes into the glucometer.
- When the monitor presses the blood into the test strip, the blood is pulled up the sides of the strip through capillary action and cohesion.
- As it flows into the strip, it first reaches the glucose oxidase layer, resulting in a chemical reaction between the glucose oxidase and the glucose in blood to produce gluconic acid.
- The gluconic acid then reacts with the potassium ferricyanide layer, forming potassium ferrocyanide.
- The potassium ferrocyanide reacts with the metals of the electrodes, ultimately causing current to flow
- The current levels are read by the glucometer and a glucose level reading is produced.
CEO Jimenez says that these smart lenses could be further developed to correct vision via mechanics smiliar to those of autofocus cameras. Novartis hopes to have a prototype available by early 2015 for testing. So what do you think?