Google parent company Alphabet has set its sights on tackling a disease that affects hundreds of millions of people: diabetes.

Verily, part of the company's "moonshot" division, will begin a joint venture with French drugmaker Sanofi with the goal of making advancements in diabetes treatment. According to Reuters, the two companies will invest about $500 million and will each control a 50 percent stake in the new company, called Onduo.

It's a partnership with the potential to make a huge impact: Nearly 400 million people worldwide have diabetes, a number that is expected to reach 592 million by 2035. Type two diabetes, which the venture will focus on, requires checking blood sugar levels often, usually by producing a drop of blood from a fingertip. There's a big opportunity for a company that can come up with a less intrusive but equally reliable monitoring device.

Jessica Mega, Verily's chief medical officer, told Reuters that the company will work on creating small sensors that can detect factors like blood sugar levels, and a Sanofi spokesperson told the publication that Onduo's product line could eventually include Internet of Things-connected insulin pens. Those with type two diabetes typically need to monitor sugar intake as well as exercise, overall diet, and other medications.

The investment in diabetes treatment is only the latest move Google has made related to sugar levels in the body. In August, Verily and pharmaceutical giant GSK invested $715 million to form a company called Galvani Bioelectronics with the goal of creating tiny electronic devices that can be installed in the body to help fight illnesses. When Reuters broke that story, one potential use it mentioned was to coax the body to produce more insulin.

And Verily has teamed up with Swiss pharma company Novartis to develop solar-powered contact lenses that could monitor blood glucose levels, among other high tech uses.

Formerly called Google Life Sciences, Verily was created as the health company of Google X, Google's moonshot division. Along with Nest and broadband arm Google Fiber, Verily is one of three of Google's moonshot ventures--which also include self-driving cars and a project to beam the Internet via hot air balloon--to actually earn any money. Even so, Recode estimated Verily's revenue earlier this year at less than $10 million. Overall, Google X lost $859 million last quarter.

Verily has gotten involved with partnerships outside of diabetes as well: Last year, the company joined forces with Johnson & Johnson to form Verb Surgical, a company that will develop robots that can assist with surgeries.

In March, a profile of Verily in the Boston Globe's medical publication criticized CEO Andrew Conrad's "divisive and impulsive" leadership tactics, claiming that he tends to dismiss subordinates' ideas and that current projects are usually hidden from employees. The piece revealed that at least 12 top employees left the company in the previous year.

Published on: Sep 13, 2016