Business

Google life sciences spinout raises $800 million in Asia play

Verily is amping up its expansion plan into Asia: The Google life sciences spinout said Thursday it’s getting $800 million from Singapore investment firm Temasek to broaden its commercial reach around the world.

Temasek, which set up an office in San Francisco last year, will gain a minority stake in Verily.

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“Temasek has a history of thoughtful and enduring capital investments, including in life sciences and health care, and this commitment to a long-term collaboration with Verily is a meaningful affirmation of our strategy,” Verily chief executive Andrew Conrad said in a statement.

Indeed, the new deal could provide an early foothold for parent company Alphabet in China: Temasek said it has a net portfolio value of $180 billion, with 23 percent of its assets in China. Both Google, another Alphabet subsidiary, and Facebook have had tenuous relationships with the Chinese government, even as officials there assert both are welcome — as long as they “respect China’s laws.”

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China, of course, is a burgeoning health care market — and many companies in the biopharmaceutical space have their eyes on expansion there. In the health care arena, Temasek has invested in biotech giant Gilead Sciences, life sciences equipment maker Thermo Fisher Scientific, and South Korean biosimilars manufacturer Celltrion — which also has plans to expand stateside.

Temasek has also invested heavily in telecommunication, financial services, energy, and other sectors.

Verily, once known as Google Life Sciences, is focused on the intersection of life sciences and technology. It has launched several high-profile projects and partnerships, including a miniaturized continuous glucose monitor, smart contact lenses, and electroceuticals. It also has a subsidiary, with Johnson & Johnson, called Verb Surgical, which aims to develop better robotic tools for surgeons.

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The company has also confronted some skepticism. The project to develop autofocus contact lenses with Alcon has suffered delays, and it’s questionable whether the lenses — which carry sensors to monitor glucose levels in the wearers — will ever make it to human trials.

Conrad had also touted that Verily could create a futuristic diagnostic device, similar to Star Trek’s “tricorder,” but the prototypes haven’t yet performed as planned, according to a STAT report.

According to Verily’s statement, Temasek will have a representative on its board of directors. Verily has never named any of its board members other than Conrad. A spokeswoman could not immediately be reached to answer questions about who else serves on Verily’s board.

Verily also recently established a 12-person scientific board — including Harvard biologist Dr. Denny Ausiello, University of California Berkeley chemist David Wemmer, and Stanford bioengineering expert Dr. Karl Deisseroth — a change from its prior reliance on informal scientific advisers.

Charles Piller contributed to this report.
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