Top Alphabet Exec Defends Google's Verily Amid Criticism

Top Alphabet Exec Defends Google's Verily Amid Criticism June 9, 2016
By Alex Keown, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. – Eric Schmidt, Alphabet’s chairman of the board, rose to the defense of life sciences division Verily after reports questioning the science behind its moon-shot projects.

During an annual shareholder meeting Wednesday, Schmidt said he was confident of Verily’s approaches the company was making in the technologies it is attempting to develop to address multiple medical concerns. During the meeting, Schmidt said he was confident in Verily achieving success with several of its products, particularly a glucose-sensing contact lens in development with Novartis .

“We’re very, very confident of not only (Verily’s) approaches, but also the controls, reviews, and processes that will ultimately produce some amazing medical breakthroughs,” Schmidt said, according to a StatNews report Thursday morning.

Verily is the first of Google ’s many “moon shot” companies to stand alone under its new Alphabet umbrella. Verily’s focus seems to be a combination of merging big data and healthcare, while at the same time developing various biological data monitors. Verily has developed several relationships with larger biotech companies, including Novartis (NVS), DexCom and Sanofi .

Earlier this week StatNews, which is owned by the Boston Globe, took a hard look at some of Verily’s lofty goals and found the most prominently talked-about ones are “plagued by serious, if not fatal, scientific shortcomings.” Based on StatNews report, some began questioning whether or not Verily was another Theranos, an early Silicon Valley darling for investors despite having some questions as to the efficacy of its products. In its report, StatNews talked with former Verily employees, as well as some independent researchers, to gain insight into the feasibility of products the company is attempting to develop. Negative comments about failing or poorly-performing technology was what first prompted investigative reporters to take a deep look at Theranos last year.

The contact lens program Verily is developing with Novartis was one product that former employees questioned would work as the company and Novartis hope. The lens, as described on Jan. 16, 2014 on the official Google blog is “a smart contact lens that’s built to measure glucose levels in tears using a tiny wireless chip and miniaturized glucose sensor that are embedded between two layers of soft contact lens material.” The blog went on to indicate the company was testing prototypes that could create a reading every second and that might have integrated LED lights that would light up to warn the wearer when glucose levels were too high or low.

Schmidt said the contact lens will be a lifesaver to the millions of people who have diabetes, StatNews said this morning. Another product that has been criticized is the tricorder, a device that purports to working with nanoparticles that are supposedly able to track down cancer cells within the body. Verily executives planned to have a working model of the device, dubbed the Tricorder, three years ago, but StatNews interviews with former Verily employees said the project is “floundering.” Not only have former employees dismissed the projects’ likelihood, Tufts University professor and nanoscience expert David Walt told StatNews he doubts the project will move forward, equating it to science fantasy.

Despite any negative reports, Verily has been on the move, taking up new space in San Francisco, as well as tapping a number of high-profile pharma executives to fill leadership spots at the company. Some of the noted individuals who have signed on with Verily include 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, has left to head up the Baseline Study of Google X and is now Verily’s chief medical officer.

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