feetAfter the high profile departure of Thomas Insel from Google start-up Verily Life Sciences last week, the company was in need of some good news. That news came yesterday in the form of a blog post from Robert Califf, M.D. that revealed the former Commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is joining their Baseline Project. The position encompasses responsibilities at both Verily and Duke University, alongside an appointment with Stanford University.

“At Duke, I will work to leverage the actionable data science produced by its deep bench of quantitative talent and clinical and operational experts to improve health and healthcare,” Dr. Califf wrote in his post. “My goal is not to build a new structure, but to work with consortia across the University and its health system and engage with external partners around the country to advance this mission. To that end, I will continue my work with the Duke Clinical Research Institute and will also have an appointment as an Adjunct Professor of Medicine in the Department of Medicine at Stanford University.”

Dr. Califf has had a rich career in the biomedical space. Trained as a cardiologist, he was Commissioner of the FDA from February 2016 to January this year. Prior to his appointment he spent many years at Duke University School of Medicine, where he was the Founding Director of the Duke Clinical Research Institute and worked closely with pharmaceutical companies during clinical trials.

The Baseline Project Dr. Califf is joining is an initiative from Verily that hopes to establish what a range of parameters look like in a ‘healthy person.’ To accomplish this goal, the project will follow roughly 10,000 people through their lives for four years.

“Although we are in the midst of an explosion of capability in the worlds of computing and information, we are still learning how to translate this capacity into better health and healthcare,” Califf wrote. “Bridging this gap has been a recurring theme of my career, and it’s at the heart of what I hope to accomplish at [Duke and Verily]. I’ll readily admit that I’ve chosen an ambitious problem to tackle, but I hope I can do my part.”

Dr. Califf appears eager to step into his new role, in particular to help develop the problems currently being faced with data handling in genomics.

“Both giant information companies and our country’s universities—particularly those with large health systems—have critical roles to play in ensuring that all Americans, and ultimately the entire world, benefit from new knowledge and technological capabilities,” he concluded in his post. “Generating and analyzing information are not enough—we must overcome barriers to using data to improve health and healthcare. I have no illusion that I have the solutions to these problems, but I am grateful for the opportunity to work with a company and a university that are letting me give it a shot!”