This news from Calico is not unexpected; deals of this nature were a given at some point in the process of building out the company. It does reinforce current views on the direction that will be taken in their research and development, however. It is my hope that Calico turns out to be something other than a hybrid of the Ellison Medical Foundation and a continuation of the past ten years wasted on sirtuins, rapamycin, and other exceedingly expensive investigations aimed at slowing aging, efforts that can do no more than produce marginal benefits even if completely successful, and which despite years and billions spent have not even advanced to the point at which a realistic timeframe or cost for that success can be proposed. Metabolism is too complex and too little is known of its detailed relationship with aging to have a firm plan of action at this point.
We shall see, but I suspect that the only way to make Calico effective by diverting it from the current mainstream is for groups like the SENS researchers, people working on much more promising means of treating aging by repairing the damage that causes degeneration, where there is enough existing knowledge to have a plan and a projected cost and timeline for success, to demonstrate that they can produce better results at far less cost than the mainstream of longevity science. That in turn requires funding: the chicken and the egg issue for making significant progress towards the treatment of aging these days.
Calico, a Google-backed biotech company run by the former Genentech chief executive Arthur D. Levinson, said it would build a new Bay Area-based facility that will research diseases that afflict the elderly, such as neurodegeneration and cancer. The facility, which doesn't have a precise location just yet, is being built in partnership with AbbVie, a Chicago-area pharmaceutical company that has a research facility in Redwood City, Calif., just a few miles from Google's Mountain View headquarters. The companies will put up equal money - $500 million at first, and up to $1.5 billion if things go well - and split any profits down the middle.
The partnership is a standard biotech deal in which, more or less, one company deals with the early phases of drug development while the other takes responsibility for testing and making whatever gets discovered. You could say that Calico will look for drugs in test tubes and, if they're successful, AbbVie will test them out and make them in factories. "Calico will set up a world-class research and development facility in the San Francisco Bay Area, where we will explore the basic biology of aging and develop new medicines for patients with aging-related diseases," said Mr. Levinson, Calico's chief executive. "AbbVie will use its deep pharmaceutical expertise to provide scientific and clinical development support and its commercial expertise to ensure these therapies are widely available."
The AbbVie partnership seemingly makes it clear that Calico will be a drug discovery and development company, which is what many observers expected based on Mr. Levinson's background in drug development.