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Former FDA official Abernethy joins Google health spinoff

Dive Brief:

  • Amy Abernethy, the Food and Drug Administration’s former principal deputy commissioner, will become the president of the clinical research business at Alphabet’s health information technology arm Verily. Alphabet is the parent company of Google and life sciences research firm Calico.


  • In her Verily role, Abernethy will be in charge of the company’s planned expansion “into a full-scale clinical evidence generation platform” that can support clinical trials, according to a June 3 statement. The company’s current portfolio includes a number of personalized health research and treatment products, including a Type 2 diabetes management platform.


  • Abernethy came to the FDA after serving as senior executive at Flatiron Health, a health information company acquired by Roche. At FDA, she was twice viewed as a possible candidate to take over as commissioner — after Scott Gottlieb’s departure in 2019 and again after President Joe Biden’s election — until she left the agency in April.


Dive Insight:

Alongside her role as second-in-command at FDA, Abernethy also served as the agency’s chief information officer, helping to accelerate the use of real world evidence and personalized medicine approaches as required under the 21st Century Cures Act. Her tenure also included implementation of a technology modernization plan that had the FDA move to cloud-based data sharing.

As the principal deputy commissioner, she would have appeared a natural successor when the top job twice went vacant during her time in office. However, former President Donald Trump selected Stephen Hahn, a senior medical executive with the University of Texas’ MD Anderson Cancer Center, and Biden chose top FDA drug reviewer Janet Woodcock to be acting commissioner. Biden hasn’t yet nominated a permanent commissioner.

“Amy has been at the forefront of the use of clinical data to accelerate clinical trials and enable the uptake of real-world evidence,” said Andy Conrad, Chief Executive Officer and founder of Verily. “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.”

Verily’s clinical research work began with an effort called Project Baseline, which has partnered with advocacy groups and universities to enroll people in observational trials to serve as a foundation for further research. Abernethy’s appointment signals a new step in the company’s work, an expansion into a clinical trial support platform.