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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Google and Former Genentech Chief Announce New Biotech Company

Silicon Valley luminaries are joining to start a new biotechnology company, Calico, that will focus on aging and the health of elderly people.

Arthur D. Levinson, 63, a former chief executive of Genentech and the chairman of Apple, is the chief executive and a founding investor. Google is also a major investor, and Larry Page, Google’s co-founder and chief executive, announced the formation of the company Wednesday.

Mr. Levinson, who used to be on the board of Google, said that Mr. Page and Bill Maris, the managing partner of Google Ventures, approached him about starting a new company to investigate the links between aging and disease.

Immortality has long been an obsession of many in Silicon Valley, including Google’s founders, who are involved in Singularity University, part of the belief system that humans and machines will at some point merge, making old age and death meaningless.

Calico stands for California Life Company. “But if you’re thinking about cats, we like the old saying that they have nine lives,” Mr. Levinson wrote in a post on the social network Google Plus, which he appears to have joined for the sake of announcing the company.

“Art and I are excited about tackling aging and illness,” Mr. Page wrote in his own Google Plus post. “These issues affect us all â€" from the decreased mobility and mental agility that comes with age, to life-threatening diseases that exact a terrible physical and emotional toll on individuals and families.”

Mr. Page placed Calico in the context of Google projects like driverless cars and Internet-connected glasses â€" ideas that Google refers to as “moonshots” that stray from its core business of search and advertising. Though Google assures wary shareholders that these projects are small compared with the core business, the company often says it will continue to invest in long-term, long-shot ideas.

“So you’re probably thinking wow! That’s a lot different from what Google does today,” he wrote in the post. He added, “Don’t be surprised if we invest in projects that seem strange or speculative compared with our existing Internet businesses.”

Google has invested in a variety of life sciences companies, and Google’s founders have invested in other health-related initiatives. Sergey Brin, who founded Google with Mr. Page, financed research on Parkinson’s disease after discovering that he had a genetic mutation that raised his risk for the disease. And Mr. Page financed research on vocal cord problems, which have affected his voice.