Spotted in the Bay Area: Former FDA Head in Talks to Join Google's Verily

Spotted in the Bay Area: Former FDA Head in Talks to Join Google's Verily May 17, 2017
By Alex Keown, Breaking News Staff

SAN FRANCISCO – Google ’s life sciences company Verily has been known to go after some high-profile candidates. Now there are several reports the company is in the process of onboarding another big fish—Dr. Robert Califf, the former commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

On Tuesday, CNBC reported that Califf is in talks for a leadership position, citing people familiar with the matter. According to reports, Califf, a cardiologist by training, is expected to take joint roles at both Verily and Stanford University. He is expected to join another noted cardiologist that Verily tapped last year, Jessica Mega. 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.

Verily’s Baseline Study is an ambitious project aimed at collecting broad phenotypic health data from approximately 10,000 participants. Each participant is expected to be tracked for four years. The study is being conducted in partnership with Duke University School of Medicine and Stanford Medicine. Data will be collected using wearable devices developed by Google.

Califf stepped down from his role at the FDA in January. After resigning, he criticized traditional ways that biotech companies collect trial data and suggested the trials should “look more like A/B comparison tests routinely done by tech companies, such as Google,” CNBC said. If Califf does join Verily, Stat News said he would “bring a wealth of knowledge about how to conduct and manage large, data-intensive enterprises.” With his experience in regulatory affairs, Califf would also bring a high-level of knowledge to Verily.

After leaving the FDA, Califf returned to the Duke Clinical Research Institute, which he founded in 2006, Califf has ties to Andrew Conrad, the chief executive officer of Verily through previous work with Dole Food and its CEO David Murdock, Stat said. Through his relationship with both Conrad and Murdock, Califf worked on a project at Duke University to track the health of thousands of North Carolinians, a project that was a precursor to Verily’s Baseline Study, Stat said.

Califf’s potential hire, if it happens, would come on the heels of the departure of another high-profile scientist—noted neuroscientist Thomas Insel, the former director of the National Institute of Mental Health. Insel left the company to found his own startup, Mindstrong. That company plans to examine how smartphone use may predict the onset of certain mental health issues, such as depression, suicide, schizophrenia and others.

In the few years Verily has been around, the company has managed to attract a number of top researchers. In addition to Mega and Insel, 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.

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