" n 2013, Time magazine ran a cover story titled Google vs. Death about Calico, a then-new Google-run health venture focused on understanding aging — and how to beat it. “We should shoot for the things that are really, really important, so 10 or 20 years from now we have those things done,” Google CEO Larry Page told Time.
But how exactly would Calico help humans live longer, healthier lives? How would it invest its vast $1.5 billion pool of money? Beyond sharing the company’s ambitious mission — to better understand the biology of aging and treat aging as a disease — Page was vague.
I recently started poking around in Silicon Valley and talking to researchers who study aging and mortality, and discovered that four years after its launch, we still don’t know what Calico is doing.
I asked everyone I could about Calico — and quickly learned that it’s an impenetrable fortress. Among the little more than a dozen press releases Calico has put out, there were only broad descriptions of collaborations with outside labs and pharmaceutical companies — most of them focused on that overwhelmingly vague mission of researching aging and associated diseases. The media contacts there didn’t so much as respond to multiple requests for interviews.
People who work at Calico, Calico’s outside collaborators, and even folks who were no longer with the company, stonewalled me.
There are other possible explanations for the stealthiness. A recent news release from Calico announced a partnership with C4 Therapeutics to work on coming up with drugs for “diseases of aging,” such as cancer — one of a number of drug company partnership’s Calico has formed. If Calico’s now focused on drug development, then a degree of secrecy might make sense. (Drug companies typically develop their products quietly to stay ahead of the competition.)
But researchers don’t buy that explanation, either. “The researchers [Calico] hired are using models such as yeasts, nematodes, and naked mole rats,” said Barzilai. “These are not the models that are relevant for drug development.” Developing cures also doesn’t fall in line with the company’s original mission — to treat aging as a genetic disease instead of hunting for treatments for age-related diseases."
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