Technology giant Google announced Thursday it plans to open in Rochester the company's first office in Minnesota, a development that company officials said will bolster an ongoing partnership with the Mayo Clinic.
Located at Collider Coworking in the Conley-Maass-Downs building in downtown Rochester, the space is scheduled to open later this year.
Google and Mayo announced a partnership in 2019 on cloud computing, machine learning and artificial intelligence that's part of a broader trend for large technology companies eyeing a bigger role in health care.
The new office will employ a "solid handful" of people, said Chris Mueller, site lead for the Rochester office and a software engineer with Google Cloud, in an interview. He didn't offer figures for initial or future staffing.
"It represents a significant milestone as the partnership matures between Google and the Mayo Clinic," said Joe Miles, managing director for health care and life sciences industries at Google Cloud, during a Thursday news conference. "It also provides our first physical office space in the state of Minnesota."
Gov. Tim Walz added that Google's decision shows that Minnesota is "an innovative state with a talented workforce and a commitment to that ecosystem that continues to grow."
Mayo Clinic is Minnesota's largest employer. Google is the most prominent part of California-based Alphabet, where executives in recent years have shown a growing interest in developing health care businesses.
Over the past 18 months, Google and Mayo have worked together to launch Mayo Clinic Platform, a tool for developing new approaches to health care by applying artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to de-identified clinic data that's been moved onto Google's cloud computing service. The platform is a strategic priority for Mayo Chief Executive Gianrico Farrugia, who has used examples like Uber and Airbnb to explain the potential.
Just as Uber connects people who need rides with those who own vehicles available for hire, Mayo's platform is meant to connect patients and other health care providers through the clinic's unique technology services. The services are informed by Mayo's trove of patient data.
One initial task with the Google partnership was moving 10 million de-identified patient records into "secure containers" for AI algorithm development, said Dr. John Halamka, the president of Mayo Clinic Platform, in an interview. The partners also moved some 200 million de-identified images into a container, Halamka said, for a first-of-its-kind analysis of what represents a normal X-ray.
A first target in the partnership is applying artificial intelligence to the process of planning radiation treatments for certain cancer patients. Mayo and Google hope to create an algorithm for developing plans that would be used for patients treated at cancer centers far from Rochester.
"There is a possibility that the Mayo Clinic experts could deliver radiation therapy anywhere in the world for any patient without needing on-premise expertise," Halamka said.
The goal wouldn't be to replace caregivers in other communities, he said, but to augment their capabilities by offering more specialized services. In addition, the machines that deliver radiation treatments sometimes are underutilized, he said, due to a lack of medical experts to create the treatment plans.
"What it means is we can take our existing expertise and spread it much more widely, in areas geographically and in patients who would have not visited Mayo Clinic in a physical place," Halamka said.
Radiation oncology is just one of several areas where Google and Mayo plan to collaborate, said Aashima Gupta, director for global health care solutions at Google Cloud.
"We are creating an AI factory, if you will," Gupta said in an interview. "There's a tremendous potential for [artificial intelligence] to truly help patients."