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Google, Biogen Idec Unite to Bring New Research to Multiple Sclerosis

This MRI scan shows a patient affected by multiple sclerosis.

Google X has partnered with Biogen Idec, the multiple sclerosis drugmaker, to expand its foray into medical research. The duo will study environmental and biological contributors to the debilitating disease’s progression, according to a report from Bloomberg.

Google and Biogen will use sensors, software and data analysis tools to collect and analyze data from individuals who have multiple sclerosis (MS). The companies aim to explore why MS progresses differently in each patient.

The collaboration is the second major pharma partnership for the life science division of Google X labs, which has also developed creations such as Google Glass and self-driving cars.

“Our central thesis is to change health care from being reactive to proactive,” Andrew Conrad, head of Google X, told the news source. “We’re trying to understand disease at its onset and see if we can intervene early.”

Bloomberg pointed out that Biogen has used digital tools for its disease research in the past. Last month, Biogen announced that it was using Fitbit activity trackers to gather data from people who have MS.

It gave 250 Fitbit bands to participants to track their level of activity and sleep patterns. Last summer, the pharma company worked with Cleveland Clinic to develop an iPad app to assess MS progression. 

Last year, Google also made quite a few moves in the digital health space. The company partnered with Novartis, another pharma company, to license its smart contact lens, which Google announced in January 2014 as a noninvasive method of measuring blood glucose levels in people with diabetes.

In October, Google X revealed that it is developing a smart pill that could scan for cancer and send the results to a user’s wearable sensor device. The pill is packed with tiny magnetic particles that can go looking for malignant cells in the bloodstream and report findings via Bluetooth to a wearable device. A week later, Andrew Conrad, the project lead, added that he believes the project is only a few years away from viability.

More data may help Biogen develop more effective drugs, or better understand which drugs should go to which patients. Real-world experience of patients could also help Biogen prove the value of its medicine to insurers and pharmacy benefit managers, which are increasingly cracking down on high-priced drugs. MS treatments typically have wholesale prices of $50,000 a year.

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