Here's why Google Ventures invests so much money in life science companies

Bill maris pressGoogle VenturesBill Maris, Google Ventures managing partner

Google’s investment firm, Google Ventures, has placed bets on companies that help people personalise cancer treatment, create meats and cheeses out of plants, and give individuals a better understanding of their own DNA.

Last year, the firm invested a whopping 36% of its money in healthcare and life sciences startups, a big increase from 9% the two years before, according to Alistair Barr at The Wall Street Journal.

Google Ventures plans to continue to focus on the life sciences, too, according to managing partner Bill Maris.

“This is the ‘transistor moment’ for life sciences,” Maris told Quartz’s John McDuling, explaining Google’s rationale. After Bell Labs invented the first transistor around 1950, it led to a surge of technological advancements. Without the transistor, our computers might still take up entire rooms and our cell phones might not even exist. The transistor was a critical invention that paved the way for countless others. Maris draws a parallel with the sequencing of the human genome, which has been heralded as the key to personalised medicine.

“The sequencing of the human genome started in 1991, ended in 2004. We didn’t have much hope of curing cancer before you could sequence the genome,” he says. “We’ve been at it for 15 years and people say ‘Oh, cancer, we are making no progress.’ Give it some time!”

Maris thinks we’re coming to that tipping point.

“Now is the moment where change is going to happen at such a pace it will be as unpredictable as [the smartphone] was,” he says.

But rapid advancement in the life sciences won’t just change the way we communicate, it will help people “suffer less and die less,” Maris says. He believes it will eventually be
possible to live to be 500.

Another thing that make the life sciences attractive to Google Ventures is that it’s so far been less attractive to other funds, in part because it’s a harder subject to understand and talk about than consumer technology like Uber or Slack.

“If you are at the buffet and everyone is picking the entree, try the dessert,” he told The Wall Street Journal.

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