We talked to the top scientist at Alphabet's life-sciences company about the common thread uniting all its seemingly random health projects - and how she plans to spend $1 billion

Business Insider | Jan 11, 2019, 07.30PM IST

Verily Jessica Mega

  • Verily, the enigmatic life-sciences company formerly known as Google Life Sciences, recently raised $1 billion and appears to have its hands in a wide range of health initiatives.
  • The company is building advanced contact lenses; releasing hordes of bacteria-infected (and thus sterile) mosquitoes in Fresno, California; and building a watch that helps researchers gather data for clinical studies.
  • Verily's chief medical officer told Business Insider there's one thread that unites all of its projects: information.

From an outsider's perspective, the researchers at Google-affiliated health-tech company Verily seem to have their hands in a little bit of everything.

They're working on contact lenses for people with age-related vision issues; superior versions of the devices that help people with diabetes track their blood sugar; and a watch that helps researchers gather data for clinical studies.

In addition to all that, they're also setting loose hoards of bacteria-infected (and thus sterile) mosquitoes to wipe out the ones that carry disease; hunting for more personalized cures for Parkinson's; and helping people fight diabetes on their phones and computers.

Not to mention, Verily just raised a fresh $1 billion to fund its projects, after taking in $800 million about two years ago.

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According to Jessica Mega, Verily's top scientist and chief medical officer, there's one thread that unites all of these disparate projects, and will help guide how the company uses its cash.

That thread is information, she told Business Insider during a recent interview on the sidelines of the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco.

A cardiologist by training and a graduate of Stanford, Yale, and Harvard, Mega has watched as clinicians, providers, and patients deal with a mushrooming cloud of data - from smartphone metrics on steps and heart rate to the detailed patient insights contained in an electronic medical record. That dataset is only going to continue to grow.

Overall, healthcare data is expected to swell 36% each year through at least 2025, according to a recent report from market intelligence firm International Data Corporation. That's a higher rate than what's anticipated for other fields like manufacturing or media and entertainment.

"We reached a point where we realized the inflection in data - we're going from gigabytes to terabytes of health data. That's a 1,600-fold increase," Mega said.

As part of its efforts at bracing for that data wave, Verily recently raised $1 billion in a mammoth funding round led by technology-investment firm Silver Lake.

In a statement released with the announcement, Egon Durban, Silver Lake's managing partner and an oncoming Verily board member, said he looked forward to working with Verily to "use cutting-edge science and technology to change the paradigm of care delivery and improve clinical outcomes."

Mega agreed.

"What we're trying to do with things like that investment is trying to stay ahead of the infrastructure you need to handle this next wave of data," she said.

"That's where I see our big value."

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