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November 22, 2016

Novartis postpones testing Google’s smart contact lens

The goal of the company Novartis was to start testing its autofocus contact lens on people in 2016, but Novartis has postponed that goal. They still say that the product Novartis is making in association with Google is “progressing steadily.”

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“It is too early to say when exactly human clinical trials for these lenses will begin. This is a very technically complex process and both sides are learning as we go along. We will provide updates at the appropriate time,” a spokeswoman for the Basel-based drugmaker said in an email.

Last year Novartis Chief Executive Joe Jimenez said his company’s Alcon eye care unit was on track to begin testing in 2016. two years earlier he said he hoped the lens would be on the market in about five years.

In 2014 Novartis and Google teamed up to develop two kinds of “smart” contact lenses: An autofocusing lens for people with presbyopia, or far-sightedness, and another for measuring blood glucose levels in diabetes patients. The lenses are in development by Alphabet Inc.’s life sciences unit Verily.

It’s unclear

Blood sugar being measured via the eye allows diabetics to stop having to prick their fingers, while an autofocus contact lens would help people whose ability to focus is impaired when their eyes age. When testing for the diabetes lens will start is still unclear.

Alcon’s sales have dropped and its leadership team has been replaced since they partnered with Google in 2014. New division head Mike Ball has been tasked with halting the revenue decline in advance of a possible sale of the unit. But Novartis said that did not bar investment in innovative projects such as the lens effort with Google.

“Advancing innovation such as the smart lens technology, is a key part of Alcon’s growth strategy. The ‘smart lens’ technology has the potential to transform eye care and further enhance our pipeline … in the contact lens and intraocular lens space,” the spokeswoman said.

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