Verily's clinical research and healthcare businesses are growing, execs say, as company eyes post-pandemic opportunities

From a ground-level view, Verily has a broad focus in healthcare and life sciences, with projects ranging from biomedical research to virtual care to wearables to even technology for mosquito eradication.

The Alphabet subsidiary has steadily extended its reach into diverse areas to include care solutions for sleep apnea and diabetes to developing devices like miniaturized continuous glucose monitors. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the company also shifted its focus to COVID screening, testing and research programs.

At a high-level view, the puzzle pieces of Verily's work across healthcare and clinical research are starting to fit together, according to Amy Abernethy, M.D., president of Verily’s clinical research business.

"It was a little dizzying when I first got here, but in a good way," said Abernethy, who jumped on board at Verily in June 2021 from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), where she served as principal deputy commissioner and acting chief information officer.

"If you zoom out, and you look at what's happening at Verily, it's much more synthetic than sometimes it can look like when you're standing on the ground and looking at everything," she told Fierce Healthcare during an interview in Austin, Texas, where she was speaking at the SXSW 2022 conference.

Verily says its goal is to use its technological capabilities combined with data to advance precision health across clinical research and care delivery including chronic condition management and value-based care initiatives.

Clinical research has been a core focus of Alphabet's life sciences venture, and bringing Abernethy on board signals Verily has strong ambitions to transform research to make it easier and faster to run clinical trials.

Abernethy said she recognized the need to accelerate innovation, particularly in the area of clinical evidence generation. "The reason I came to Verily is that I could see they had the core substrate to start to solve these problems. Much of the foundational work was already taking off, but perhaps not always with the puzzle pieces put together the right way to sort of see where it goes. That's really what we've been working on from July until now," she said.


Abernethy oversees Verily's existing clinical research efforts—including its Project Baseline initiative to build health data management and analysis tools—and leads the development of a platform for clinical trials and real-world evidence studies. All this work is supported by the company’s massive $700 million funding round it banked back in December 2020.

Verily is focused on building software solutions, tools and technologies to help with clinical trials and also merge those data sets with EHR data and claims data, she said.

The FDA's accelerated approval program has ramped up in recent years. That pathway helps certain drugs for diseases with unmet need, like some types of cancers and rare diseases, reach patients sooner. 

"There is an expectation that evidence generation is going to happen after the approval or authorization. And if that's true, then there's a whole bunch of things that we have to plan for," Abernethy said. "One is how are we going to leverage all available data including being able to observe how medical products were used and leveraging the electronic health record or claims data. It means that the demand for evidence-based generation is going up."

The company has commercialized several features such as clinical trial participant recruitment capabilities, tools to collect patient assessments and clinical trial outcomes and an eConsent tool. Verily also developed Study Watch, a sensor-based wearable device for noninvasive, continuous monitoring that can collect digital biomarkers.

In August, Verily logged its first major buyout, acquiring SignalPath, a management system that helps clinical trial sites run more effectively, and folding it into the Baseline platform.

"That's software for clinical research sites, and we also have the bandwidth and core capabilities in conducting longitudinal studies, and what we're starting to do is put them together to plan for this evidence generation process of the future," Abernethy said.

Big opportunities around healthcare data

These clinical research initiatives, along with projects on the care delivery side of the business such as chronic condition management, are all foundational capabilities that build toward a bigger story, Abernethy said. "It all moves in a direction towards making sure that all people get access to precision health, which means that you got to have tooling that is distributed and reaches everywhere," she said.

She added, "What excites me the most is the future that we're talking about is coming into focus more and more. And it doesn't have to be a future that's only available 20 years from now. I can actually see that future is going to come into focus in the near term and be very tangible, which for a person who's been working on this problem really in different ways for the last 25 years, that's very exciting."

In a separate interview at the ViVE 2022 digital health conference in Miami Beach earlier this month, Verily's Jessica Mega, M.D., chief medical and scientific officer, said the research and care delivery sides of the business are starting to mature and "reinforce one another."

"We're actually building tools on our innovation line, like the Study Watch that helps to measure movement more continuously, and we're also pulling that into our research platform. You'll see us continuing to work across our business lines," Mega said.

Mega said Verily is "well-positioned" to capture the next generation of health information and put those data to work to improve clinical studies and healthcare delivery. 

During a Fierce JPM Week interview in January, Vivian Lee, M.D., Ph.D., Verily's president of health platforms, said 2021 was a "really big year" for Verily. "In health platforms, we really saw the development and maturation of our five businesses,” she said.

Verily has quickly expanded the scope of its work in healthcare and research during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The company broadened its work with employers through its Healthy at Work program and virtual care offerings. It also expanded the reach of its virtual clinic, called Onduo, into multiple chronic conditions, and launched digital services geared toward mental and behavioral health. These moves bring Verily a step closer to its goals of delivering whole-person care through a single telehealth app.

Building a sustainable business

Verily's ongoing investment in its clinical research business and other commercial activities represent an opportunity for sustained revenue for the company, Jeff Becker, principal analyst, healthcare at market intelligence company CB Insights, told Fierce Healthcare last year.

Verily also recently announced a partnership with cosmetics giant L'Oréal to study skin health and develop new digital tools in the dermatology space. 

"We’ve achieved consistent, very strong growth—about three- to fourfold growth in revenue—year over year in the last several years,” Lee told Fierce Healthcare in January. “I think we're showing that at this intersection of healthcare and technology and very sophisticated analytics, evidence generation, device technology and new sensors, that we are able to execute and we're able to deliver in a way that's really meaningful for our customers and for the people that we serve."

Alphabet doesn't break out Verily's revenue. In its most recent earnings report for the fourth quarter of 2021, Alphabet reported "Other Bets" quarterly revenue of $181 million, down from $196 million a year ago. "Other Bets" include more innovative projects within the company and, according to Alphabet, revenues are generated primarily from the sale of health technology and internet services. But that $181 million is a minuscule percentage of the company’s overall quarterly revenue of $75 billion in the quarter.

Meanwhile, operating losses in the "Other Bets" division expanded to $1.7 billion, up from $1 billion a year ago.

There has been speculation that Verily is looking to untangle itself from Google and move outside its parent company, which could signal an initial public offering.

During the interview at SXSW, Abernethy wouldn’t speak to any potential IPO plans but noted that Verily "manages its tasks in a way that is clearly distinct as an Alphabet company."

"We're doing the actions that we need to do to demonstrate that we are a company that you can trust is going to manage your data in the right way. Those actions are the ones that we need to take anyway and prepare us to take a number of different paths for the future," she said.