Verily joins with Janssen, adding Covid-19 to Project Baseline study


When Verily unveiled $700 million in funding late last year, it said the cash would support its Covid-19 research. Some of those research plans are now taking shape.

Verily, the life sciences division of Google parent company Alphabet, is adding Covid-19 to Project Baseline, an expansive study collecting health data from thousands of patient volunteers and following them over time to create a comprehensive map of human health. The patient information contributes to a database that could offer insight into the biological drivers of health and illness.

The Covid-19 Immune Response study, which Verily is adding to Project Baseline under a partnership with Johnson & Johnson subsidiary Janssen Research & Development, will collect information about how the novel coronavirus affects a person’s immune system immediately after a positive test. The research is expected to better inform future treatment and disease prevention practices, Jessica Mega, chief medical and scientific officer of Verily, said in a prepared statement.

Verily said the study will enroll adults who have tested positive for the novel coronavirus. Those volunteers will participate from their homes. Biological measures, as well as clinical and epidemiological data will be collected at the time of the Covid-19 test to assess the molecular or immunological signatures associated with infection over the course of 28 days.

According to Faith Holmes, the primary investigator of the Covid-19 Immune Response study, there is a pressing need to identify the biological indicators that will enable clinicians to make evidence-based treatment decisions. Better data can help clinicians allocate treatment resources and have more meaningful conversations with patients and their families about the course of the disease, Holmes said.

Real-world data may be collected for up to two years prior to a participant’s enrollment in the study. Data will also be collected during study visits and for up to two years following the study’s last assessment. The companies say the study could also have implications beyond Covid-19.

“Since immune response patterns observed in Covid-19 patients are similar to those caused by other respiratory pathogens, it is our hope to apply the findings from this study beyond COVID-19 to other illnesses that carry a high patient burden,” James Merson, PhD, Janssen’s global head of infectious diseases R&D said in a prepared statement.

Since its beginnings in 2017 as a partnership with Duke University and Stanford University, Project Baseline has since expanded through additional research partnerships with drug giants such as Novartis, Otsuka Pharmaceutical, Pfizer, and Sanofi. Those alliances were structured to develop clinical research programs that use the Project Baseline platform across multiple therapeutic areas. Among the goals is boosting the number of numbers and the diversity of those who volunteer for clinical trials.

A partnership with genomics company Color aims to better understand genetic risks for certain diseases and how genes can affect how patients respond to medication.

Verily’s collaboration with Janssen is not Verily’s first foray into Covid-19 research. Last year, Verily began Baseline Antibody Research, an antibody study hoped to offer insight on immunity. The study was also hoped to help researchers track whether tests were effective in detecting the virus.

Image: Getty Images, Peter Howell

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