Internet search engine giant Google has set up a company focusing on aging and associated diseases, called Calico, and recruited a pharma heavyweight, Arthur Levinson, as its chief executive.

Announcing the move, Google CEO Larry Page gave very few details about the new initiative, saying that “with some longer term, moonshot thinking around healthcare and biotechnology, I believe we can improve millions of lives”. Speaking to Time magazine, he said “in some industries, it takes ten or 20 years to go from an idea to something being real. Healthcare is certainly one of those areas”, adding that “maybe we should shoot for the things that are really, really important so ten or 20 years from now we have those things done”.

On his Google + blog, Mr Page wrote that “it’s still very early days so there’s not much more to share yet”. He went on to tell shareholders: “Don’t be surprised if we invest in projects that seem strange or speculative compared with our existing internet businesses [and] please remember that new investments like this are very small by comparison to our core business”.

The initiative clearly appeals to Dr Levinson who will be a founding investor in Calico. He said that “Larry’s focus on outsized improvements has inspired me, and I’m tremendously excited about what’s next”.

Dr Levinson will remain as chairman of Roche’s Genentech unit continue as a director of the Swiss major. The latter’s chairman, Franz Humer, said that “Art’s track record at Genentech has been exemplary, and we see an interesting potential for our companies to work together going forward. We’re delighted he’ll stay on our board”.

Dr Levinson is also chairman of Apple and Tim Cook, the latter’s CEO, said that “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”.