Google’s latest ‘moonshot’: improving health and extending your life with Calico

You’d think Google (s GOOG) already has its hands full building driverless cars, working on green energy projects and deploying internet-connected balloons – on top of running its search business. But it seems that the company is just beginning to embark on what could be its most ambitious venture yet: improving health and extending the human lifespan.

In a Time magazine story and Google+ post today, Google CEO Larry Page said that as part of its latest “moonshot,” the company plans to launch a new company called Calico, focused on health and aging.

“OK … so you’re probably thinking wow!  That’s a lot different from what Google does today.  And you’re right.  But as we explained in our first letter to shareholders, there’s tremendous potential for technology more generally to improve people’s lives,” Page wrote in his post. “[We] are excited about tackling aging and illness. These issues affect us all—from the decreased mobility and mental agility that comes with age, to life-threatening diseases that exact a terrible physical and emotional toll on individuals and families. And 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.”

According to the company, Calico will be an independent firm run by the former CEO of biotech company Genentech Arthur Levinson, who will also be an investor. He will also continue to serve as the chairman of both Genentech and Apple (s AAPL), which supports the endeavor. Commenting on Levinson’s position, Apple CEO Tim Cook said in a statement: “For too many of our friends and family, life has been cut short or the quality of their life is too often lacking. Art is one of the crazy ones who thinks it doesn’t have to be this way. There is no one better suited to lead this mission and I am excited to see the results.”

As we’ve covered, plenty of new technology companies and investors have begun to tackle health care over the last couple of years. So, in a sense, it’s not entirely surprising to see one of the biggest technology companies of them all make a big move in the sector. And Google Ventures has invested in 23andme, the genetics startup co-founded by Sergey Brin’s wife Anne Wojcicki. But Google’s last foray in health – personal health records service Google Health – wasn’t exactly a success. The company shut down the service last year after failing to gain traction.

Aside from announcing Calico’s existence, the company didn’t disclose too many details about the new company. According to Time, it will make longer-term bets than most healthcare companies, focus on researching new technologies and, not surprisingly, put Google’s significant data analysis chops to work. Whether it will lead to money-making products remains to be seen.

“In some industries, it takes 10 or 20 years to go from an idea to something being real,” Page told Time. “Health care is certainly one of those areas. We should shoot for the things that are really, really important, so 10 or 20 years from now we have those things done.”

(This story was updated to correct which Google co-founder is married to Anne Wojcicki.)