clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Google's Medical Moonshots Take Aim at Mental Health

Another day, another big Alphabet hire.


After pledging to take on diabetes, human genomics and death itself, Google has indicated the next colossal medical industry in its crosshairs: Mental health. And it has hired another big name to lead the charge — this one from the government.

On Tuesday, Dr. Tom Insel, the director of the National Institute of Mental Health since 2002, announced his arrival at Google. Insel will join Life Sciences, the two-year-old research division, recently spun out as a standalone Alphabet company, that licenses its technology to pharmaceutical and medical companies.

BuzzFeed first reported the hire.

Insel wrote about the move on the NIMH website: “That the Life Sciences team at Google would establish a major exploration into mental health is by itself a significant statement — recognizing the burden of illness from psychosis, mood disorders, and autism as well as the opportunity for technology to make a major impact to change the world for the millions affected. The Google philosophy has been to seek a 10x impact on hard problems. I am looking forward to a 10x challenge in mental health.”

 Dr. Thomas Insel
Dr. Thomas Insel

Around one in five people worldwide suffer from mental disorders, per the National Institutes of Health, yet there is a dearth of information on conditions and best treatments. Earlier this summer, Facebook’s former CFO launched a startup, Lyra Health, to tackle the issue.

A Google rep sent over this statement: “Tom is coming on board to explore how the life sciences team at Google could have an impact on the huge challenges related to understanding, diagnosing, and treating mental illness.”

Life Sciences, which is led by geneticist Andy Conrad, another marquee scientist Google nabbed, has been perhaps the most publicly active of the far-flung research outfits in Mountain View. It cut a series of deals with pharmaceutical companies this summer. With the latest, a tie-up with Sanofi to market drugs for diabetics, Conrad’s company declared the disease as its first official “focus.” Insel is leading the process to determine how the Alphabet company will approach mental health issues.

In a report last week, the investment bank Cowen and Company said that Google’s health care initiatives, which include a range of venture investments and the anti-aging lab Calico, could be the company’s next multi-billion dollar bet.

Life Sciences, Insel’s new company, is still deciding on a new name.

This article originally appeared on

Sign up for the newsletter Today, Explained

Understand the world with a daily explainer plus the most compelling stories of the day.