Alphabet is in talks to hire Obama's former FDA chief

Key Points
  • Verily is considering hiring the recently departed FDA commissioner Robert Califf, according to sources familiar with the matter.
  • Califf has been spotted at Verily, Alphabet's life sciences unit.
  • This is a boon for Verily, which is working on regulated health projects with partners in the life sciences sector.
Dr. Robert Califf
Getty Images

Former FDA commissioner Robert Califf is in talks with Alphabet's life sciences arm Verily for a leadership role, according to several people familiar with the matter. (Update: Califf announced the news on Verily's blog on Wednesday.)

Califf has been spotted at the company's South San Francisco offices, said one person. The details of the position are still being worked out, and the talks could fall through, but Califf, a legendary cardiologist, is expected to take a joint role at Stanford and Verily.

Califf would join shortly after the launch of Verily's baseline study, a well-funded effort headed up by fellow cardiologist Jessica Mega to study human health by tracking 10,000 people over at least 4 years.

Both Stanford Medicine and Duke University, where Califf is currently on leave as a tenured cardiologist, have been named as partners in that study.

The appointment of Califf would be a big win for Verily, and couldn't come at a better time. The company just lost its top academic, former National Institute of Mental Health chief Tom Insel. Insel was the latest in a series of high-profile departures from Alphabet, Google's parent company, which also includes Nest's Tony Fadell, GV's Bill Maris, and Google Fiber chief Craig Barratt.

Califf was nominated for the FDA role by President Barack Obama and stepped down in January of this year, a standard procedure with a new administration. Shortly after stepping down, he spoke out in an interview about the antiquated ways in which companies collect medical data to test new drugs and medical devices. He suggested that clinical trials should look more like A/B comparison tests routinely done by tech companies, such as Google.

It's not typical for health agency chiefs to join technology companies, but it might increasingly be an option as Silicon Valley starts moving into regulated industries. Verily works closely with life sciences companies — including Dexcom, Sanofi and Johnson & Johnson — on health hardware and software projects.

Watch: Dr. Califf offers advice to his successor at FDA

Last FDA Commissioner offers advice to successor