Google's Verily Loses High-Profile Scientist

Google's Verily Loses High-Profile Scientist May 9, 2017
By Alex Keown, Breaking News Staff

SAN FRANCISCO – Noted neuroscientist Thomas Insel, the former director of the National Institute of Mental Health, is leaving Verily, Google ’s life science venture.

Verily announced Insel’s departure in a blog post published Monday. In the post, which reconfirms the company’s commitment to tackling mental health issues, Verily said it was “bidding a fond farewell to Insel. Although little was said about his decision to leave after a brief tenure at the company, the blog, posted by Danielle Schlosser, a clinical research scientists, described Insel as a man who “helped shape our vision and to build a multidisciplinary team of mental health clinical researchers, data scientists, product designers, and software engineers, all passionately committed to rethinking the way we approach diagnosis and care in mental health.”

Insel joined Verily, which at the time was known as Google X, in November 2015 after helming the NIMH for 13 years. He took the leap with Verily due to the company’s goal of seeking a ten-fold solution to hard problems. At the time he was hired, he said he was inspired to find a ten-fold solution to mental health challenges, Stat News said. While at NIMH, Insel was credited with refocusing the institute on its primary mission to research causes and improved treatments for patients dealing with mental health problems. It was that mission-oriented focus in Insel that Verily sought.

On its blog announcing the departure, Verily said it believes technology will play a critical role in mental health challenges–one of which is “the lack of an objective, precise and comprehensive measurement system.” Verily said its goal is to collect “deep datasets” and “develop a next generation measurement-based care platform that will empower a holistic and personalized approach to treatment.”

Insel is the latest in a number of high-profile figures to depart Verily. Two noted researchers, Vikram Bajaj and Mark Lee, both left to join Grail, a cancer detection specialist helmed by Jeff Huber, a served two years as a senior vice president at Google X focused on big data analytics.

Stat News said at least one of the reasons Bajaj and Lee left is Chief Executive Officer Andrew Conrad. According to the report, Conrad was described as a leader who was not only a “punishing manager,” but one who also “seemed unfocused and prone to launch infeasible projects.” In its investigation into Verily, Stat found that the most prominently talked about projects the company was tackling are “plagued by serious, if not fatal, scientific shortcomings.” The devices include Verily’s tricorder, a device using nanoparticles to track down cancer cells in the body; a contact lens that reads glucose levels in the body; and the billion-dollar Baseline study.

In the few years Verily has been around, the company has managed to attract a number of top researchers. In addition to Insel, Bajaj and Lee, the company also was able to sign on Abbott ’s John Hernandez, who is head of health economics for Verily and Jason Hipp, formerly of Bristol-Myers Squibb , who now heads the pathology department. Last year Jessica Mega, a prominent cardiologist at Harvard Medical School and the Brigham and Women's Hospital, joined to head up the Baseline Study and is now Verily’s chief medical officer.

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