Verily kicks off Baseline study, which seeks to define ‘health’

Verily’s Project Baseline, which aims to better understand what it means to be healthy and how health transitions to disease, has launched in partnership with Duke University and Stanford University. The study will collect health data from 10,000 participants over four years.

The study will begin enrolling in the next few months and will take place at two sites in North Carolina and two sites in California. More sites are under consideration, according to a statement.

The project aims to establish a “baseline” for human health and will collect a “deep dataset” from each participant through clinical visits and interactive surveys and polls. Participants will also wear Verily’s StudyWatch, an investigational health tracker the company unveiled this week. The datasets will include a vast array of information, ranging from clinical, imaging and genetic data to physical, environmental, behavioral and self-reported data, according to the statement.

“Currently, most of what we see as treating physicians are short snapshots in time of an individual and primarily after they are already ill. We are effectively missing a lot of valuable information years prior to illness,” said Dr. Sanjiv Sam Gambhir, chair of radiology at Stanford and director of the Canary Center for Cancer Early Detection, in the statement. “We’re dealing with illness in the absence of a well-defined reference of healthy biochemistry, and this underscores the criticality of what we hope to achieve here.”

De-identified data from the study will eventually be made available to researchers, Verily said. The company hopes the project will lead to the creation of new platforms that will “discover changes in health as they happen in meaningful and actionable ways,” said Dr. Adrian Hernandez, a professor of medicine at Duke, in the statement.

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And although experts have questioned the utility of Baseline—the main concern is that “trivial” or “false” trends will be seen in the data—it is less lofty a goal than the other ambitious projects Alphabet touted when it first entered life sciences in 2012. These included a glucose-sensing contact lens and a diagnostic device dubbed the “Tricorder,” which was intended to assess a patient’s health by detecting injected nanoparticles in the bloodstream. Both remain in development.

In November, Novartis walked back expectations that human trials for its autofocusing contact lens—licensed from Google in 2014—would begin that year. And in March, the Swiss drugmaker did the same for its glucose-sensing contact lens collaboration with Verily. Initially expected to launch a commercial product by 2019, Novartis Chairman Joerg Reinhardt called the project a “highly risky” long-term project.

Meanwhile, Verily is partnering with Dexcom on a miniaturized continuous glucose monitor, which the pair aims to launch next year. They are also developing a disposable, bandage-sized glucose monitor with eyes on a 2020 or 2021 launch.