Innovation

Delve Talks: Will Biederman, Verily

September 26, 2019

Delve Talks is a podcast that digs into the challenges around design, product development, leadership and innovation. Our first season focuses on what it takes to create a corporate culture that supports innovation.

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Dave Franchino: Hi, my name is Dave Franchino. And I am the host of Delve Talks, a podcast focused on creating a culture of innovation and I'm really excited today. My guest is Will Biederman, head of emerging projects for Verily Life Sciences. And if you don't recognize Verily, you’re probably going to recognize the family tree. It’s formerly known, if I'm correct, as Google Life Sciences, which was a division of Google X. Verily is Alphabet’s research organization devoted to the study of life sciences. And, Will, I did just a bit of searching before this conversation. I found your name on over 25 issued patents, hundreds of citations, and more than a half-dozen or so pending applications. So, clearly a pretty strong personal focus and pedigree on innovation. I’m really excited to have you join us. Thank you very much.

Will Biederman: Yeah, thank you very much. Dave. Thanks for having me. It's great to be here.

Dave Franchino: Great. Well, maybe you could start by telling our listeners just a little bit about your background that I just described. Kind of your pedigree and how you came to your current role. I think that will provide some nice context for the rest of the discussion

Will Biederman: Absolutely, sounds good. I think I'll start by telling you a little bit about myself and then transition into my journey and how that led to where I am now. So, I guess as a child, and historically, I was always really interested in two areas –

health and electronics. And so, growing up, I wanted to be a doctor. I was fascinated by medicine. I wasn't grossed out by blood and guts, but at the same time I also would like to take apart things in the house, build devices. I built computers at home. A super- curious mindset. So, going into college I had to make a decision between medicine, pre-med, and engineering and it really kind of tore me up for a while. Ultimately, I chose to take an engineering path and resolved to apply myself to health and medical problems.

So, I studied electrical engineering and after doing some internships and doing a bunch of research during undergrad in the health and medical space, I decided to pursue a Ph.D. so I could ultimately research more novel applications of electronics. So, from academia, I was actually directly recruited into Google X after a presentation I was making at a research conference. And so, I've been at Google X and then subsequently Google Life Science, as you mentioned, the transition there which has been rebranded to Verily after the Alphabet restructuring. So, I've been there for the past seven years, mostly focused on developing novel devices for diabetes and other miniaturized biosensors. And now I lead the emerging projects team at Verily, where we focus on developing the next pipeline of device projects and partnerships.

Dave Franchino: Will, I was really struck by something you said in that your personal journey and debate as to whether or not you wanted to pursue a career in medicine or a career as an engineer. I really think that the intersection between health and innovation is almost the perfect frontier for innovation, but one of the things that makes that so challenging, I think, is that they tend to be two kind of wildly divergent tracks. You know, it takes so much effort to become a physician, MD, and so much effort to become an engineer that you don't often find people that can seamlessly cross both paths. What would you say to that? What have you learned about the similarities between the mindsets that it takes to perhaps be a practitioner, a clinical individual, an innovator, and how can we help drive innovation to be a little bit more seamless across that really important frontier?

Will Biederman: Yeah, I think that's a great point and it really kind of speaks to the healthcare industry as a whole, where it's not just kind of a health focus industry. More that it’s really pulling multiple disciplines in to solve some of these bigger problems. And I think it's actually a really interesting time for healthcare as there's an increasing national attention on health and a shift in focus from reactive to proactive care for people. And what this really means is a shift from treating the symptoms of a disease to treating the underlying cause or even preventing the disease itself. And so, of course, as you might imagine, these are typically huge and multifaceted problems that require many new disciplines, require EEs, software engineers, and it's not just some new app that's going to solve a problem or some new wearable or some newfangled sensor, but it's a focus on comprehensive disease management platforms. And maybe a kind of a good example of this to illustrate it for the listeners is diabetes.

Diabetes is a large and growing worldwide problem that's affecting over 400 million people, which consists of pre-diabetes, Type 2 diabetes, and Type 1 diabetes. And without proper management, many of these people progress from prediabetes to Type 2 diabetes or the severity of their Type 2 diabetes worsens. And so, historically, the approach has been very reactive, treating the symptoms as the disease progresses. But now, more recently there's been a push by several companies including Verily to create these Type 2 diabetes management platforms, which are really virtual care platforms that are pulling in personalized treatments and includes like custom devices, custom delivery mechanisms for insulin, coaching, clinical support, all this all these different disciplines are really coming together to address sort of the root cause and provide more proactive care.

William Biederman
Will Biederman, Head of Emerging Projects, Verily Life Sciences

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