Gilead, Verily ally to analyze immune cells from inflammatory disease patients

Verily expects to generate a terabyte of data on each patient. (Gilead China)

Gilead has teamed up with Verily to analyze the effect its drugs have on the immune cells of patients with inflammatory diseases. The alliance taps into Verily’s work to stratify and analyze white blood cells—and the data-crunching abilities that come from being part of the same company as Google.  

Under the terms of the three-year deal, Gilead will provide Verily with immune cell samples taken from people participating in phase 2 and 3 trials of treatments for rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and lupus. Gilead will take samples from patients before, during and after treatment with its experimental drugs.

Verily will analyze these samples alongside clinical data from the trials to glean insights into disease signatures and treatment responses. If successful, the initiative could help Gilead identify groups of patients most likely to respond to a drug, or come up with new ways to treat diseases. 

To make such breakthroughs, Verily’s platform—dubbed Immunoscape—will need to do a better job of analyzing white blood cells than previous tools. Gilead CSO John McHutchison, M.D., thinks Verily’s tech can clear that bar. Talking to Forbes, McHutchison pointed to Immunoscape’s ability to split up white blood cells into different subtypes and analyze their RNA expression profiles as reasons to be optimistic. Gilead is reportedly committing up to $90 million to Verily to form the alliance.

In tasking Verily to analyze its samples, Gilead is positioning itself to receive an ocean of data. Verily expects to generate a terabyte of data on each patient. Given Gilead’s phase 3 program for one of its inflammatory disease drug (filgotinib) in one indication (rheumatoid arthritis) is enrolling more than 6,000 patients, there is scope for the alliance to generate petabytes of data.    

That would be a problem for some organizations, particularly in the recent past. But it plays into the strengths of Verily, which can draw on its parent company Alphabet’s experience of handling data that are measured in exabytes. 

“Historically you might have needed to shy away from a project of this size just because the computational aspects were so daunting,” Charlie Kim, head of molecular systems and immunology at Verily, told Forbes. “Now we are at a stage where you don’t have to be able to shy away from that.”