Verily to build data-powered registry of IBD patients to accelerate Crohn's, colitis research

Verily is on the up-and-up—as in, re-upping a team-up with the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation to help spur research into inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) forward.

Alphabet’s life sciences arm announced Tuesday that it will build on a pilot project it launched with the foundation last year that aimed to build a registry of IBD patients whose data could then be used to give clinical researchers and drug developers a clearer picture of how new treatments affect patients and their quality of life.

“We ultimately realized together that it made sense to take this work to the next level and build a more sophisticated longitudinal registry that incorporates critical elements such as patient symptoms and concerns, that incorporates longitudinal evaluation of inflammatory bowel disease and patient outcomes and that also incorporates other key areas of interest in the science of IBD, such as environmental exposure concerns—and really starts to try and understand the underpinnings or the ‘why’ behind inflammatory bowel disease,” Amy Abernethy, M.D., Ph.D., president of clinical studies platforms at Verily, said in an interview.

The revamped partnership builds not only on what Verily and the foundation learned while initially working together but also on work each partner has done to improve its tech capabilities in the interim, Abernethy said.

The foundation, for one, has bulked up its digital research platform “as they learned how to build registries and other scientific capabilities for inflammatory bowel disease,” she said. Verily, meanwhile, has also been “investing heavily” in new digital tools for longitudinal research, including software that can combine clinical and real-world data in the same place, as well as new user-friendly ways of recruiting for studies and collecting participant data that pose as low of a burden as possible for patients.

The resulting tech-enabled registry will gather data from patients with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis over time. The project aims to go beyond the clinical data collected in electronic health records by incorporating self-reported information about patients’ everyday symptoms, readings taken by wearable devices and sensors and potentially even geolocation data that Abernethy said could provide information about an individual’s environmental exposure risks.

From there, researchers can analyze the holistic, long-term data to address questions about the root causes of IBD and about the real-life effects of new drugs and the value, if any, they add to patients’ daily lives. They’ll be able to access the data and design studies through the clinical research platforms already developed by Verily and the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation.

As for how IBD fits into Verily’s overall portfolio of disease research, Abernethy explained, “We're very interested in building capabilities that reinforce longitudinal evidence generation, ensure high-quality data and are very patient-centric, reducing the burden of participating in research while also making sure that we are collaborating with patients and patient communities in ways that meet people’s needs.”

Crohn’s and colitis “certainly” fit the bill, she said: “There is a critical need to understand the science—this is a chronic and longitudinal disease that greatly impacts people’s lives—and there is also the opportunity to develop new treatments and the opportunity, too, for people to be involved in those studies if they know about them.”