Google offshoot Verily Life Sciences and partner Alcon (ALC), a division of Novartis (NVS), have run into delays developing an autofocus contact lens project for clinical testing, Reuters reported Friday. That lens will not be tested on people this year as previously hoped.
It’s also unclear when, if ever, human testing might start for a glucose-sensing contact lens meant to relieve diabetics of the need for needle sticks to test their blood sugar. This lens inspired Google cofounder Sergey Brin to form the ambitious Verily, which, like Google, is a subsidiary of Alphabet.
A STAT investigation earlier this year found that the lens was regarded by many researchers — and even experts inside Verily — as technically infeasible because tears are not a reliable fluid for measuring blood sugar.
“It is too early to say when exactly human clinical trials for these lenses will begin,” a Novartis spokeswoman told Reuters. “This is a very technically complex process and both sides are learning as we go along.”
John Smith, an expert on noninvasive glucose technologies and a former executive with Johnson & Johnson, told STAT earlier this year that efforts to measure glucose from sweat, saliva, and tears have failed for decades.
They all faced a problem, Smith said. None of those fluids can produce glucose readings that reflect blood-glucose levels; glucose in tears fluctuates with ambient temperature and humidity.
He called the contact lens effort “faith-based science.”
“We discussed the challenges in detail with Novartis/Alcon before launching our collaboration,” Verily said earlier this year.
Alcon spokeswoman Roslyn Patterson said the Verily collaboration lenses are in early clinical development and “for complex, cutting-edge technology, the projects are progressing steadily.”
This story has been updated with a statement from Alcon.