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商业 - 科技

谷歌诺华携手研发智能隐形眼镜技术,可矫正老花眼

Laura Lorenzetti 2014年07月22日

诺华分公司,全球最大的眼科药品与医疗器械公司爱尔康全球总裁杰夫•乔治接受《财富》专访,讲述了与谷歌的全新合作,以及科技与制药业的前景。

    制药公司已迈入数字化时代,他们正勇往直前。

    上周二,诺华公司(Novartis)称,正与搜索巨头谷歌(Google)的研究团队合作,准备推出智能隐形眼镜技术。

    这只是一场医疗革命的开端。还有手术室专用的谷歌眼镜,处方级智能手机应用,以及不远的将来能读取血糖水平的隐形眼镜——对糖尿病患者来说这是真正的革命性产品,他们现在要么只能扎手指取血样,要么只能佩戴皮下监测设备。

    作为诺华的分公司,眼科公司爱尔康(Alcon)正与谷歌创新团队携手,准备将智能隐形眼镜推向市场。日前,《财富》(Fortune)杂志专访了爱尔康全球总裁杰夫•乔治,讲述医药行业与科技的交融,以及制药业的前景。

    今年5月1日,乔治升任爱尔康总裁,在他的协助下,两个半月前公司与谷歌X实验室达成合作。目前爱尔康公司正在筹划如何借助这一微型技术改善普通人的健康水平。(试想,再也不用戴老花镜了是什么情景!)

    《财富》:谷歌X实验室与爱尔康公司是如何达成合作的?

    杰夫•乔治:今年年初,乔(即诺华公司首席执行官吉梅内斯)就与对方开始会谈,此后不久谷歌便宣布他们正在开发可以测量血糖水平的智能隐形眼镜。在我加盟之前,公司就向他们展示了爱尔康的设备,谷歌对我们所拥有的能力深表叹服。

    自5月1日上任以来,我在爱尔康的主要任务之一就是努力营造并激发公司的创新文化。我们全力寻找各种最佳创意,无论它们是来自公司内部还是外部。爱尔康长期以来所做的大量创新使我们从一家1984年销售额仅为3.5亿美元的公司成长为去年销售额高达105亿美元的公司。而与此同时,我要确保始终让员工接受来自行业外的各种启发。

    我发现,科技与医疗保健正日益融合,而(谷歌公司)打造创新原型产品的速度也真让我惊叹不已,这正是能与我的团队产生强烈共鸣的东西。与顶尖科技公司合作,让我们用全新的眼光看待医疗设备业,甚至整个医疗保健业。

    “智能隐形眼镜”技术的哪方面最让你兴奋?

    矫正老花眼。现在全球有近20亿人因老花眼而阅读困难,无论是iPad还是纸质书都是如此,他们非常希望能自由阅读,摆脱老花镜。这正是让我们兴奋的地方。

    这一技术的原理是,在隐形眼镜上植入作为传感器的光敏二极管,它们与进入眼睛的光量及视线的上下移动相互作用,根据眼睑开合的角度控制进光量。随后传感器可以将信号无线传输给内嵌于两层隐形眼镜之间的液晶。然后这些液晶会自动调节以供远眺或近看。我们对这种技术非常非常感兴趣。

    我们希望,作为全球白内障和屈光手术外科设备的领导者,最终将能够把这一技术用于人工晶体,这对我们来说是桩大生意。目前我们的白内障业务规模是30多亿美元。

    这么说来,这一技术有望获得长足发展?

    确实如此。我们为所有的视觉应用申请了智能隐形眼镜的独家专利。目前我们正致力于将糖尿病患者所需的可监测血糖的智能隐形眼镜和老花眼人群——比如我父母和几年后的我本人——所需的可自动调焦技术推向市场。不过与此同时,这些技术还有望用于其他眼科疾病。

    目前全世界青光眼患者高达6000万人,这种感应式智能隐形眼镜技术可以持续监测术中眼压,而这是由前列腺素这类治疗青光眼的药物来控制的。在其专利到期前,适利达(一种前列腺素药名)是辉瑞公司(Pfizer)一款价值高达数十亿美元的拳头产品。

    在你看来,这一技术还会在哪些领域深刻改变医疗保健业?

    Pharmaceuticals have entered the digital age, and they aren’t looking back.

    Novartis said Tuesday it is teaming up with Google[x] GOOG -1.53% , the search company’s research arm, to launch smart lens technology.

    The move is only the start of a healthcare revolution. There’s Google glasses in operating rooms, a prescription-only smart phone app and, in the not-so-far future, contact lenses that can read blood-sugar levels — a revolution for diabetics, who today must either prick their own fingers or wear a subcutaneous monitoring device.

    Fortune talked with Jeff George, the global head of Alcon — the Novartis subsidiary that is working hand-in-hand with Google innovators to bring smart lenses to market — about the intersection of healthcare and technology, and what could lie ahead for the pharmaceutical industry.

    George came on board to lead the contact-maker on May 1, and already in his two and a half months on the job he’s helped to land the Google[x] partnership and is planning out how Alcon can leverage this miniature technology to transform everyday health. (Think: no more reading glasses!)

    How did the partnership between Google[x] and Alcon come about?

    Joe [Jimenez, Novartis CEO] had had conversations back at the beginning of the year just prior to Google announcing that they were moving forward with their gluco-sensing smart lens, and we had an opportunity prior to my joining to show them our facilities. They were pretty impressed with the capabilities that we had.

    One of the things I’m trying to do at Alcon just having taken over May 1 is really stimulate and galvanize the culture of innovation. We’re really looking for the best ideas whether they are internal or external. There’s been a tremendous amount of innovation in Alcon that’s enabled us to grow from a $350 million company in 1984 to $10.5 billion last year. And at the same time I wanted to make sure we’re exposing our people to inspiration outside of our industry.

    I see an increasing convergence between technology and healthcare and the speed at which [Google] is prototyping products really blew me away, so this is something that really resonated with my team. It’s not a traditional way of looking at healthcare, even within medical devices, to really partner with a top technology company.

    What aspect of the “smart lens” technology excites you most?

    Presbyopia. You have close to 2 billion people who have difficulty reading, whether it’s an iPad or a book, and really want freedom from readers and from eyeglasses. That’s really something that’s exciting for us.

    Effectively the way the technology works is that you have photo diodes which are sensors that are embedded into the contact lens that interact with the amount of light that is coming into the eye and interact with your down-gaze or your up-gaze, which controls how much light is coming in based on where your eyelid is. The sensor technology is able then to wirelessly send a signal to a liquid crystal, which is embedded between two layers of a contact lens. Then that liquid crystal would adjust for either looking out in distance or looking in near field. That technology is something that’s really really quite interesting to us.

    Our hope is that as the leaders in surgical equipment and devices for cataracts and refractive surgery globally, we could ultimately develop this also for intra-ocular lenses, which is a big business for us. Our cataract business is over $3 billion in size.

    So, the potential for this could go much further?

    It does. We licensed the smart lens technology on an exclusive basis for all ocular uses. We’re very focused on bringing to market the gluco-sensing smart lens for diabetics and auto-focus technology for presbyopics–like my parents and in a few years myself. But at the same time, there are other ocular indications.

    There’s about 60 million people around the world who have glaucoma, and this sensing smart-lens technology could continuously monitor intra-operative eye pressure, which is what is controlled by medicines that treat glaucoma like prostaglandins. Before its patent expired, Xalatan [a prostaglandin] was a product worth a couple of billon dollars to Pfizer.

    Are there other areas where you could see this technology transforming healthcare?

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