Google parent Alphabet hires former FDA head Robert Califf to lead health strategy and policy

Google parent company Alphabet has hired former U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Robert Califf, M.D., to lead its health strategy and policy.

In his new role, Califf will serve as head of strategy and policy across the company's Google Health and Verily Life Sciences enterprises beginning Nov. 18, according to a blog post on Duke University's website Monday. 

Iz Conroy, a media representative for Google, confirmed Califf would be joining Alphabet. Califf has been serving as an adviser at Verily, Alphabet's biotech division, since 2017.

The former FDA commissioner currently serves as vice chancellor for data sciences for Duke Health, director of Duke Forge and Donald F. Fortin, M.D. professor of cardiology. Califf will remain on faculty at Duke University as an adjunct professor in the School of Medicine, the university said.

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A year ago the tech giant tapped another big name in healthcare—Geisinger Health CEO David Feinberg, M.D.—to join its executive team. Feinberg moved over to the tech giant as vice president of Google Health. He has been consolidating teams across the company including its hardware division and artificial intelligence division DeepMind, CNBC reported.

Califf is the first known hire whose duties span both Google Health and Verily, according to CNBC.

According to a Duke Forge blog post, Califf is a nationally and internationally recognized expert in cardiovascular medicine, health outcomes research, healthcare quality and clinical research. He has led landmark clinical trials and is one of the most frequently cited authors in biomedical science. 

He served at the FDA during President Barack Obama’s administration, first as deputy commissioner for medical products and tobacco from 2015 to 2016 then as commissioner of food and drugs from 2016 to 2017.

Califf then returned to Duke to establish Duke Forge as the university’s new center for actionable health data science. He also has played a major role in developing the Duke AI for Health initiative. 

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According to the Duke Forge blog post, Califf wrote in a note: “This is bittersweet. It’s been 50 years since I arrived at Duke. All but four of those years, I have spent here. Lydia and I have made great friends, and together with Duke colleagues we’ve made real progress in our quest to improve lives. Duke University has an incredibly bright future, and I am proud to always call it home.”

Califf also was the founding director of the Duke Clinical Research Institute, the world’s largest academic research organization. 

"This is an exciting opportunity for Dr. Califf and for Duke University, Duke Health and the School of Medicine as we explore new ways to partner to continue our shared quest to improve health nationally and globally," A. Eugene Washington, M.D., chancellor for health affairs and president and CEO of the Duke University Health System, said in a statement. "Dr. Califf has been a tremendous leader for this institution for more than 35 years, and we want to thank him for his dedication and commitment to Duke."