- Alphabet has hired former FDA Commissioner Robert Califf to oversee strategy and policy for its health subsidiaries Verily Life Sciences and Google Health, the company confirmed to Healthcare Dive on Tuesday.
- Califf has been an adviser for Verily Life Sciences since 2017. Since then, he has split his time between Verily and Duke University, where he holds multiple leadership roles.
- Califf served as the 22nd U.S. FDA commissioner under President Barack Obama. He will start his new post in November.
Companies interested in expanding their presence in the healthcare market often look to snap up valuable talent from inside the industry. Google's parent company, Alphabet, is no different — the acquisition of Califf comes roughly a year after Google hired ex-Geisinger CEO David Feinberg to lead health strategy at the internet-focused tech giant.
Feinberg has been working to coordinate health initiatives across Google properties such as Google Brain, Nest home automation, Google Fit and the company's artificial intelligence business, Google DeepMind. In a huge breakthrough for AI, DeepMind announced earlier this year its technology could spot acute kidney disease two days before clinicians, although the application potential of the tech for diagnostics is likely years away.
Despite the health focus of Verily and Google Health, the two divisions remain largely separate. Verily does license Google software — for example, Verily is working with Nikon on early detection of diabetic retinopathy and diabetic macular edema using machine learning models created by Google Research.
Alphabet saw revenue of $38.9 billion in the second quarter of this year, up almost 20% year over year. Verily was a primary driver of growth in the holding company's non-Google businesses through its licensing and research and development, according to company executives.
Califf is the first known Alphabet employee whose duties span both divisions. He served as the FDA's deputy commissioner for medical products and tobacco from 2015 to 2016, and commissioner of food and drugs from 2016 to 2017.
He helped create the Duke Clinical Research Institute, which became the country's largest academic clinical research organization with more than 1,000 employees and annual revenue of about $200 million. He also leads Duke Forge, Duke University's center for health data science.
Califf has been criticized in the past for his close ties to the pharmaceutical industry, although his links with companies like Merck, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Eli Lilly and Novartis failed to throw a wrench into Senate confirmation to his post at FDA.
His focuses are on cardiovascular medicine, health outcomes research, healthcare quality and clinical research, according to a Monday blog post from Duke University announcing his departure. He will continue to be an adjunct professor at the Duke University School of Medicine.