Google's $25 Million Bet to Cure Heart Disease

Chris Newmarker

November 16, 2015

3 Min Read
Google's $25 Million Bet to Cure Heart Disease

With the American Heart Association matching the money, the goal is to spend $50 million over five years on a single, to-be-determined research effort.

Chris Newmarker

Call it another example of Google's "moonshot" approach to tackling technological problems. This time, it involves cardiovascular diseases--which account for 17 million deaths around the world annually, making it the No. 1 cause of death.

Alphabet's Google Life Sciences business and the American Heart Association recently announced that they will spend a total of $50 million over the next five years on tackling the disease. The money, $25 million from each organization, will go toward a single to-be-determined research project.

Early next year, a joint leadership group made up of representatives from the two organizations will select a team leader, a cardiologist perhaps but possibly someone from another area of expertise who nevertheless has a creative vision to tackle the disease.

"It could be a teenager in Wisconsin who has a brilliant idea. The best idea should triumph," Google Life Sciences Chief Executive Andy Conrad said in an American Heart Association blog post.

Conrad says the team leader is far from determined. He wants proposals that can fit on a single piece of paper.

"We go in without bias," Conrad said. "If we knew what the best answer was, we would be doing it. But we don't. So the thing is to ask people to contribute ideas and wise people will review them and act upon them."

The groups described the $50 million as just a start, since the cross-functional group of investigators assembled by the team leader will have support including clinical research, engineering, and data analysis, as well as advice from the leadership group. Think Google Life Sciences' technical resources combined with American Heart Association's scientific and medical resources.

"Hopefully, it inspires everyone else to chip in--maybe wrestles the government into doing something more, maybe wrestles other governments or other funding institutions to add to it," Conrad said.

The two groups are hoping for an alternative to the incremental funding that comes from U.S. government forces, giving a researcher a chance to bet big on something without having to waste time constantly writing more grant proposals.

The project could potentially focus on making sense of the large quantity of cardiovascular disease data that is being produced, Gregory Graf, a researcher at the Saha Cardiovascular Research Center at the University of Kentucky, speculated in Wired.

Conrad suggested the work "may help identify people who are at risk and get them the right treatment before something devastating happens."

Chris Newmarker is senior editor of Qmed and MPMN. Follow him on Twitter at @newmarker.

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