Michael McCoy of Chemical & Engineering News reports (july 26, 2014 issue) that “Google X”, Google®’s “secret” lab, is working with Novartis’ Alcon (NYSE:ACL) eyecare division to develop therapeutic “smart lenses.” Smart lenses are non-invasive sensors that will be embedded in contact lens-like eye lenses. At this juncture, Novartis® seems to be pursuing technology that will help diabetics more easily monitor their blood glucose levels. Sensors in the lens will measure glucose levels in eye fluid and transmit the data wirelessly to a smartphone.
C&EN reports that Novartis is licensing the smart lens part of the technology from Google®. Most likely, the licensing package includes Google’s U.S. Patent Application No. 14/031,299 for “Microelectrodes in an Opthalmic Electrochemical Sensor” that Google® filed in September 2013. Although the Patent Office issued a Notice of Allowance (“NOA”) on the application in June 2014, it recently vacated the NOA (on July 30, 2014). Specifically the Patent Office rejected the application as being obvious in light of patent applications to Otis (US20120245444); Abreu (US20110040161) and Wilsey (US200702170054). Although it appears that these particular references weren’t listed in Google’s most recent Information Disclosure Statement (“IDS”) filed with the Patent Office, the rejection notes that the cited applications came to light when the Examiner reviewed the references in Google’s July 21st IDS. It’s likely that Google® will file a response to the Examiner’s rejection in the near future.
C&EN reports that Novartis additionally plans to pursue devices to correct presbyopia. Presbyopia is a common eye condition that affects many adults as they reach middle-age and beyond. As the eye ages, the ability of the cornea to change shape to focus on an object diminishes, often resulting in difficulty reading small print and a need for reading glasses. Novartis plans to combine a smart lens with procedures such as refractive surgery to help restore the eye’s natural autofocus mechanism.
Novartis is also an investor in Proteus Digital Health, which is developing some interesting medical products. Readers may recall news from a couple of years ago reporting that the FDA had just OK’d Proteus’ ingestible pill-like microchip sensors (e.g., see 2012 Engadget article here). While there’s likely endless future uses for the ingestible microchip, it appears that the first application will be to monitor patient compliance. Acid in a patient’s stomach will cause a change in the sensor, which in turn will send a signal to a patch or other device (e.g. a smartphone) to indicate that a patient has taken his/her medication. Last year, Gigaom reported that Oracle had also invested in Proteus, along with Novartis and other investors who were sought to help Proteus bring its products to market.
So, IoT (“the Internet of Things”) is not only going to lower our thermostats at the appropriate times, but its also going to be in our eyes and something that we can swallow. A mix of creepy and intriguing….