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Google to form health company led by Genentech chairman

A Google logo is seen at the entrance to the company's offices in Toronto September 5, 2013. REUTERS/Chris Helgren
A Google logo is seen at the entrance to the company's offices in Toronto September 5, 2013. REUTERS/Chris Helgren

By Alexei Oreskovic

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Google Inc said it plans to set up a new company called Calico, headed by Apple Inc and Genentech Chairman Art Levinson, to develop technologies to tackle health issues related to aging.

The new company will be run separately from Google, the world's largest Internet search company, with a focus on issues including life-threatening diseases and problems affecting mental and physical agility due to aging.

"While this is clearly a longer-term bet, we believe we can make good progress within reasonable timescales with the right goals and the right people," Google Chief Executive Larry Page said in a Net posting on Wednesday.

Google did not provide any other details about the new company, including where it will be based, how many employees it will have or whether Page would have a direct role in its operations.

Google's investment in Calico is "significant" and designed to allow the organization to invest in different projects, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters.

Google, which makes more than 90 percent of its revenue from advertising, has invested in numerous so-called moonshots since co-founder Page reassumed the role of CEO in 2011. The company is working on self-driving cars, wearable computers, and air balloons that beam wireless Internet access to remote regions of the world.

Page acknowledged in his post that the new company appeared to diverge from "what Google does today."

"Don't be surprised if we invest in projects that seem strange or speculative compared with our existing Internet businesses," he wrote on his Google+ profile. "And please remember that new investments like this are very small by comparison to our core business." Google generated $50 billion in revenue last year

Wall Street has generally been tolerant of Google's side projects, which do not appear to have distracted the company from succeeding otherwise or caused an alarming increase in spending.

Shares of Google, which has $54 billion in cash and securities, were roughly unchanged at $887.84 on in midday trading on Wednesday.

Health issues are an area of personal interest for Google co-founders Page and Sergey Brin. In May, Page announced that he had a rare nerve disease that limited the movement of his vocal cords and briefly sidelined him from public speaking. He also said he had been diagnosed with Hashimoto's thyroiditis, a thyroid inflammatory condition he said gives him no trouble.

Brin has said that he has a higher-than-average chance of being diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, which his mother had. He believes he can lower his chances of getting Parkinson's from 50 percent to 13 percent through a strict regimen of diet and physical exercise.

Brin learned of his increased chance of Parkinson's through tests he took with 23andMe, a biotech firm founded by his wife, in which Google has invested.

Google previously tried to get involved in the healthcare business with limited success. Google Health, which provided consumers with a way to store their medical records online, was shuttered in 2011 after three years. Page said at the time that the service had failed to catch on with the general public.

(Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Prudence Crowther)

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