Alphabet hires Robert Califf to run Verily health study

Alphabet‘s Verily division has hired former FDA chief Dr. Robert Califf as an adviser, the company announced in a blog post Wednesday.

CNBC on Tuesday exclusively reported that the company was talking to Califf.

Califf will help oversee Project Baseline, a well-funded effort headed by fellow cardiologist Dr. Jessica Mega to study human health by tracking 10,000 people over at least four years. He will also continue to work at the Duke University Clinical Research Institute and have a new appointment as an adjunct professor in the Department of Medicine at Stanford. Duke and Stanford are teaming up with Verily for the baseline study.

The appointment of Califf is a big win for Verily, and couldn’t come at a better time. The company just lost its top academic, former National Institute of Mental Health chief, Dr. Tom Insel.

Califf was nominated for the FDA role by President Barack Obama and stepped down in January, a standard procedure with a new administration. Shortly after stepping down, he spoke out in an interview about the antiquated ways in which companies collect medical data to test drugs and medical devices. He suggested that clinical trials should look more like A/B comparison tests routinely done by tech companies, such as Google.

It’s not typical for health agency chiefs to join technology companies, but it might increasingly be an option as Silicon Valley starts moving into regulated industries. Verily works closely with life sciences companies including Dexcom, Sanofi and Johnson & Johnson on health hardware and software projects.

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