Standing at the forefront of change
Name: Andrew Conrad
Title: CEO of Verily
It's been a whirlwind of a few years for Verily, formerly known as Google Life Sciences. The company, which spun out of Alphabet ($GOOG), is forging ahead with ambitious growth plans, striking deals and unveiling projects to increase its healthcare cachet. Heading up those efforts is Andrew Conrad, whose big dreams for the company echo its commitment to innovation in the field.
Verily wants to set itself apart from other med tech innovators, and Conrad is quick to emphasize this point. The company wants to go "from reactive to proactive, from intervention to prevention," he said back in December, when Google Life Sciences announced its name change.
At least for now, Verily seems to be charting its own course. Unlike some of its life sciences peers, the company keeps many of its plans shrouded in secrecy. Verily has plenty of cash at its disposal but keeps its plans for funding more opaque, leaving many wondering about its next move.
This culture, while starkly different from other startups, also reflects Verily's roots. Alphabet prides itself on taking a less traditional approach to business. Earlier this year, Biogen's ($BIIB) VP of Corporate Development and Strategy Adam Koppel said that Alphabet wants to leverage big data to take over the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).
Similarly, Verily has said that it wants to incorporate big data and med tech into different applications, including a Google-like search engine for human health research. But concrete steps toward this goal remain to be seen. Few would accuse the company of posturing, but at times, it seems as if Verily is honestly an enigma.
Still, thinking outside the box has served Verily well and could continue to be the company's calling card. The company grew out of a glucose-monitoring contact lens project, which Alphabet ($GOOG) now shares with Novartis ($NVS). Verily has since struck deals with key industry players such as Dexcom ($DXCM) and Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ), developing a mini disposable glucose monitor with the former and focusing on robotic surgery with the latter.
Conrad, who co-founded the National Genetics Institute and formerly worked as CSO of testing titan LabCorp ($LH), is counting on new approaches in R&D to keep up the positive momentum. Last year, Verily said that it would team up with the American Heart Association (AHA) to find "new causes and drivers of coronary heart disease." "We're already imagining the possibilities when a team like that has access to the full resources of both Google Life Sciences and the AHA, and we can't wait to see what they discover," Conrad said when the partnership was announced last year.
Earlier this year, the company took its commitment to heart research a step further. Verily, along with the AHA and pharma giant AstraZeneca ($AZN), said that it would funnel $75 million over 5 years to back "one brave idea from a visionary leader" to cure heart disease. In the end, the initiative could provide a new model for R&D, Conrad said at the time.
"We want to create a model for experts from different disciplines to come together and focus on a problem," Conrad said. "Our aim is to provide the resources and support necessary to study coronary heart disease over a number of years with the most advanced tools available. We're looking for a team that can gain new understanding, prove new treatments, and--ultimately--prevent or reverse this challenging disease."
Verily's fledgling independence could come in handy for Conrad as the company charges ahead with its projects. As part of its reorganization last year, Alphabet granted Verily more autonomy, giving the company power to do things like hiring staff and planning its own marketing campaigns.
As a result, things are "going to get a little faster, more efficient and more independent," Conrad said. At least for the time being, it seems like Verily is on a roll. The company recently announced plans to lease new space in South San Francisco's biotech hub, giving it ample room for future expansion.
-- Emily Wasserman (email | Twitter)
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