Verily shelves diabetes-tracking contact lenses

An ambitious project to make contact lenses that could track glucose levels for people with diabetes has been shelved, with Alphabet's Verily admitting the technology just wasn't up to scratch yet. The health-centric lenses were one of the company's first public projects to break cover back in 2014, and a headline example of how it would work with the pharmaceutical industry.

Verily began as Google's life sciences division, with the contact lenses billed as an example of what the company's technology know-how could do if applied to healthcare. The team was then spun out of the Google X incubator into a standalone company, dubbed Verily, in 2015.

Working with Novartis' eye-care division, Alcon, the team sought to develop contact lenses which would work as medical testing devices. Since then, Verily said today, it has actually pushed the corrective eye-wear into three distinct categories. As well as the original plan to embed glucose sensors, it also created a smart accommodating contact lens for presbyopia, and a smart intraocular lens for improving sight after cataract surgery.

Thousands of lenses have been built as a result, with multiple form-factors. Each has wireless electronics and tiny sensors laced through it, and Verily says that it has been running various clinical trials with "hundreds of thousands" of test results.

Unfortunately, those results show the problem is tougher than expected. "Our clinical work on the glucose-sensing lens demonstrated that there was insufficient consistency in our measurements of the correlation between tear glucose and blood glucose concentrations to support the requirements of a medical device," Brian Otis, PhD, Chief Technical Officer at Verily, wrote today.

In particular, Otis says, tear glucose readings are simply more challenging to take given the varied conditions of the eye. "For example, we found that interference from biomolecules in tears resulted in challenges in obtaining accurate glucose readings from the small quantities of glucose in the tear film," he explained. "In addition, our clinical studies have demonstrated challenges in achieving the steady state conditions necessary for reliable tear glucose readings."

Faced with that, Verily and Alcon opted to put the glucose-measuring lens project on hold. However it will continue to develop the other two contact lens projects. The diabetes work, meanwhile, won't go to waste.

Instead, Verily will work with Dexcom on other ways to use the technology developed, including miniaturized continuous glucose monitors. Another project, a joint-venture with Sanofi dubbed Onduo, will look at how continuous sensing can be better included in Type 2 diabetes care.