Ex-FDA deputy Abernethy lands at Verily, ready to steer clinical research

In the search for someone to head up its planned growth in clinical trial support, Verily has found itself a triple threat.

Alphabet’s life sciences-focused offshoot hired on Amy Abernethy, M.D., Ph.D., whose résumé boasts decades of research-related experience in a variety of regulatory, commercial and clinical roles.

As president of Verily’s clinical research business, Abernethy will oversee the company’s existing clinical research efforts—including its Project Baseline initiative to build health data management and analysis tools—as well as lead development of a platform for clinical trials and real-world evidence studies.

Abernethy joins Verily shortly after her sudden departure from the FDA, where she had served as principal deputy commissioner of food and drugs for a little over two years and where she was widely seen as a top contender for the agency’s (still-unfilled) top commissioner post. (Fierce Pharma voters even selected her as their first choice for the job last December.)

At the FDA, where she also served as acting chief information officer, Abernethy headed up a “remarkable modernization of the agency’s technology and data practices,” according to an internal memo Janet Woodcock, the acting FDA commissioner, sent to staff upon Abernethy’s resignation in March.

FDA deputy chief Amy Abernethy
Amy Abernethy, M.D., Ph.D.

That modernization included bringing the agency closer to its goal of cloud-based data interoperability. She also worked on overhauling the way the FDA uses data, namely through improvements to its work with real-world evidence and personalized medicine.

And she's not the only FDA alum to trade regulatory duties for a spot at the buzzy Verily: Robert Califf, who served as the agency's commissioner from 2016 to 2017, joined Alphabet in late 2019 as head of clinical policy and strategy for Verily and Google Health.

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Abernethy's time at the FDA followed an almost five-year stint at Flatiron Health. She was chief medical and scientific officer and senior vice president of oncology for the cancer research technology company, which was purchased by Roche in early 2018 for $1.9 billion and which, incidentally, had previously counted Verily parent company Alphabet’s GV venture arm among its lead investors.

Before that, Abernethy, a hematologist, oncologist and palliative medicine physician, spent more than a decade at Duke University. There, she worked as a professor in the school of medicine and director of the Center for Learning Health Care and the Duke Cancer Care Research Program.

“There is no one better positioned to catapult Verily’s clinical research business into its next important phase than Amy, with her understanding of clinical practice, research, data science and the evolving regulatory environment,” Verily CEO Andy Conrad said in a statement.

“Amy has been at the forefront of the use of clinical data to accelerate clinical trials and enable the uptake of real-world evidence. Her focus on improving the efficiency of the development and availability of new medicines aligns with our goals to transform clinical research by making it easier and faster to run clinical studies,” Conrad continued.

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Abernethy’s hire comes on the heels of Verily’s filling a number of other executive posts, with newly instated chief information, marketing, revenue and people officers.

Her work will be supported by the company’s latest overstuffed funding round, which brought in a whopping $700 million late last year. At the time, Verily noted that the capital’s primary use would be in expanding Project Baseline and its research programs in digital surgery, pathology and immunology, as well as building the aforementioned RWE platform to streamline clinical research.