- Seeking more efficient clinical research, four major drugmakers have partnered with Alphabet's life sciences-focused subsidiary Verily, announcing Tuesday early details of collaborations aimed at driving trial recruitment and speeding generation of clinical evidence.
- Pfizer, Novartis, Sanofi and Japanese drugmaker Otsuka will all work with Verily, using the technology company's data tools in clinical studies the pharmas plan to launch "over the coming years."
- Verily and Sanofi are already partnered via a diabetes joint venture dubbed Onduo. The San Francisco-based offshoot of Google's parent company also has projects ongoing with GlaxoSmithKline, Biogen and Novartis, among others.
Since launching in 2015, Verily has drawn significant interest from industry, launching initial projects with Novartis' now spun out Alcon unit to develop a smart contact lens and Johnson & Johnson on robotic surgical tools.
Joint ventures with GSK and Sanofi were bigger commitments from the pharmaceutical industry — Verily and GSK laid out plans in 2016 to invest 540 million pounds over seven years in a company dubbed Galvani Bioelectronics.
While such collaborations remain early, not all have worked out. Last November, Verily and Alcon announced they would pause work on the glucose-sensing lens, citing "insufficient consistency" in mapping tear glucose readings to glucose concentration in the blood.
Still, the promise of improved patient engagement in trials and better management of data appears too great for pharma companies to pass up.
Pfizer, Novartis, Sanofi and Otsuka will join a project that Verily's dubbed "Baseline." Launched in 2017 with a study designed to track what it means to be healthy, Baseline has since expanded, most recently with a consortium of health systems including Duke University's and the Mayo Clinic.
Verily will help bring together data generated from electronic health records, clinical trials and wearable devices, turning all that information into something useful, said Lionel Bascles, Sanofi's global head of clinical sciences and operations, in an interview.
Sanofi hasn't yet determined which study it will work on with Verily, but Bascles noted multiple sclerosis could be one area of interest.
"Can we accelerate recruitment of patients? MS is a very crowded environment and it's difficult to get access to patients," Bascles noted, suggesting a patient registry could be one way to help define and enrich a study population.
Sanofi sells the MS drugs Aubagio (teriflunomide) and Lemtrada (alemtuzumab) and has studies ongoing testing an anti-CD40 monoclonal antibody and a BTK inhibitor in the central nervous system disorder.
Pfizer expects its first study with Verily will likely be in dermatology, a spokesperson for the company confirmed by email, noting also the pharma's interest in improving patient engagement in clinical trials.
"Verily offers state of the art technology that matches our ambitions to bring clinical trials closer to patients by allowing them flexibility to participate in clinical research from home in a safe and secure manner through the use of mobile and wearable technologies," the spokesperson wrote.
For Sanofi at least, the collaboration remains in preliminary stages. The companies began serious discussions in January, Bascles said, giving just "enough time for us to see where this initiative would fit into our long-term view on digital strategy."
Sanofi recently appointed its chief medical officer Ameet Nathwani as chief digital officer, a new role for the French drugmaker, Others, including Pfizer and Novartis, have recently appointed chief digital or information officers to their executive committees for the first time, part of a push within the industry to better use the reams of data generated by clinical trials.
In the collaborations announced Tuesday, Verily will manage the relationship with each drugmaker in order to maintain confidentiality. But the founding members will be able to share how they've used Verily's platform.
"Every experience from Sanofi will be shared with the others and conversely," said Bascles. "We can help Verily grow the platform and improve it — this is the intent of the collaboration."