President Obama’s last Food and Drug Administration commissioner, Dr. Robert Califf, announced Wednesday that he would join Google biotech spinoff Verily Life Sciences.
“I’m hoping to offer insights that will allow the company to better tailor its technologies to meet the needs of doctors, other providers, health systems and the patients they serve, and to drive evidence-based approaches that will enable continuous learning and improvement,” Califf wrote in his announcement of the news on the Verily blog, though he didn’t specifically say what role he’d be taking in the company.
“Although we are in the midst of an explosion of capability in the worlds of computing and information, we have not yet learned how to effectively translate this capacity into better health and health care,” Califf wrote. “Bridging this gap … [is] at the heart of what I’m hoping to accomplish.”
Califf said he would also work at his “dream job” at Duke University Clinical Research Institute — where he previously led clinical research efforts — in coordination with Verily’s quantitative and clinical efforts. In addition Califf said he also has accepted an appointment at Stanford University as an adjunct professor of medicine, and hopes to foster collaboration between Silicon Valley and other entrepreneurs to improve public health in the United States.
The hiring is a big win for Verily, which has lost many top experts, which some former employees attributed to the difficulty of working with Andrew Conrad, the company’s CEO.
Califf, who has known Conrad since 2004, apparently has no such difficulties. The two worked closely together on projects at the North Carolina Research Campus, a public-private research venture near Charlotte, N.C., established by Dole Food CEO and billionaire real estate tycoon David H. Murdock in 2008.
Murdock financed a precursor to Verily’s ambitious Baseline study — a project to track 10,000 people for years, monitoring their health status, lab tests, biomarkers, and other data in an effort to define “baseline” human health for future diagnostic research and drug development.
Califf directed that work at Duke until he left to join the FDA in 2015. Duke and Stanford are logical places for him to land, given that they are Verily’s most important collaborators on Baseline.
Califf will give Verily the kind of insight into drug and diagnostic regulation that could make or break its efforts to turn ongoing research into marketable products and treatments.
“Dr. Califf is one of the most respected figures in academic medicine today and is widely regarded as a preeminent innovator in clinical evidence generation,” Dr. A. Eugene Washington, chancellor for health affairs at Duke, said in a statement.