Ashley Moulton Hanks believes in making information sharing a key component of a patient’s clinical trial journey. As Verily’s resident Clinical Data Manager, thinking about the percent of data capture patients typically don’t share is where Ashley finds significant opportunities to paint wider pictures of the ability to detect and prevent disease.
We spoke with Ashley about the road to her role at Verily (formerly Google Life Sciences) and how data is deepening the patient-healthcare provider relationship.
Sherrell: Let’s talk about your path, what your role is now, and how you found yourself at Verily.
Ashley: I initially started out in neuroscience working for a neuromarketing firm where we were capturing people's brainwaves in response to advertising stimuli. What I realized from the experience of marketing products was that I was really passionate more about healthcare—which was something that I was lacking there. It sort of propelled me to look at biotech and pharma, and I took a leap of faith by taking a role at Gilead Sciences when I knew very little about the organization and, to be quite frank with you, very little about clinical data management. I laugh now looking back because it was so bold and, at the time, I probably couldn't give you a great definition of what the role was. I just knew that I loved data and that I wanted to be in the space.
Within six months of me joining the company, they were acquired for $11 billion for their Hepatitis C cure. I actively participated in that journey across Gilead for many years as we brought four different cures to market. When we hit our fourth and final wave at Gilead, I realized that I wanted to move into a less-structured data space and broaden my horizons to an organization that didn't have the bureaucratic overhead and all the inherent pharma pieces. I looked for a long time and eventually found Verily, and what I found in Verily was an open-minded organizations that had—and has—a willingness to look at data in a very different way.
Tell me a little bit more about how that structure works in your role and how data correlates with the disease detection work of Verily.
It really ties into our mission of collecting, organizing, and activating data. Within the clinical data management group that we've formed here, we're really about harnessing and leveraging “non- traditional” data types.
The second step is organization, where we ask ourselves how do make sense of all this information and organize it in a way that we can actually activate it and analyze it to produce meaningful findings. Those key principles drive our day-to-day activities and really allow us to achieve our deliverables.
I think our biggest project here, one that I'm really proud of, is Project Baseline. We're working to set up a really ambitious clinical study with a four-year longitudinal study in which we deep dive into every aspect of someone’s health journey. I'm excited to get that data and use it to help improve how people are treated.
Talk more about the significance of these tools in disease detection and prevention.
We've got a handful of devices at Verily that help with disease prevention. One example is Verily's Study Watch which is in use at several of the studies we're running right now, including in Project Baseline. The watch is designed specifically for clinical study, so it's very different from your average sort of a health watch—there's far more top-level metrics that are being provided back to individuals, and it's aims is really to get a little bit deeper into someone's health. For example, with the watch, you can actually take an electrocardiogram, which is super cool.
I think that the reason why we're focused on devices like Study Watch and others is that there's so much data that can be gleaned from an individual over the course of their daily life, and that data can have a major impact on their health. There are a lot of clues and signals that are coming from the human body day-to-day that we don't have great methods for capturing yet—or, where we have different devices that people are using, but there isn't one platform that integrates all of the information from those devices and transforms it into something that would be useful for someone. This stratification of information is a real problem when it comes to making well-informed and meaningful care decisions.
People want to be able to see how they're performing and what their health looks like on a day-to- day basis, and then have some sort of analytics or visual around it so they can understand it and actually take action to improve their health, or notify their doctor or make changes as needed. Essentially, it needs to be simple and it needs to be effective.
I think that question is where we're really focused with a lot of our devices—how do we build ones that will allow us to better capture this information? And beyond that, capture it continuously and not just at one-off points but throughout the day or evenings, too. Project Baseline leverages a continually-active sensor, so we're always attached to big data, and then Verily is able to deliver that information back to people or to doctors and connect all of the different pieces within the healthcare ecosystem in one place.
Let’s pivot and talk about connectivity between hospitals and doctors and the ecosystem of information that's being passed through and shared. Describe how interoperability works at Verily.
It's a very complex question, I think, because there's so much going on within disparate systems. When you take a step back and look at interoperability of data, we have so much data that exists in the wild and as you try to harness it, you see that there's different formatting and different structure and all of these different contextual pieces that make it challenging. There's also these silos that exist within healthcare data sources, and we're really trying to break down those barriers and move that information to create an ecosystem where data can be shared.
One tangible example of ways that we're at least working with other organizations to share it is with Project Baseline. Stanford Medicine and Duke University School of Medicine are partners with us and have shared access to the data, and we all work as a team to collect data and perform analysis of it.
What are some of the exciting changes that you've seen across the industry, or maybe just even things that are kind of exciting you right now in this space?
First and foremost, we've had some amazing blockbuster drugs [developed]. To see Hepatitis C go from being deemed as a silent killer to a virus that's treatable and curable is pretty amazing. I think it speaks to the hard work that biotechnology is putting into exploration and R&D.
Something that's specifically exciting to me now is this notion of returning of results and engaging subjects and participants in clinical trials in new and unique ways. I think the question of how we keep people engaged, how we keep them intrigued, and how we share feedback has been a hot topic in the industry.
We’ll see [these ideas] play out in the next year or two and really become
distinct concepts, which will allow complex clinical trials to achieve milestones and give organizations the leverage they need.
Thank you to Ashley Moulton Hanks for sharing her story and Verily's vision of transforming the way people receive care through the prevention, detection, and management of disease. To learn more about Verily, please click here.
Health tech is a rapidly growing field, and we're passionate about featuring the female perspective in this industry. If you'd like to read about more badass women in health tech, be sure to check out a few past installments of this series by clicking here, here, and here.
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