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Verily, Alphabet’s life sciences arm and sister company to Google Health, launched the Baseline Antibody Research study — a research initiative aimed at better understanding coronavirus antibody testing. Verily is adapting its existing Project Baseline study to support the antibody research endeavor, the first initiative of which will be to roll out out serology testing to patients who have already taken a nasal swab test from Verily’s testing program. For context, Verily erected four coronavirus testing sites across California early last month.
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Verily’s study could be instrumental in establishing the accuracy of coronavirus antibody tests and will add to its myriad coronavirus-specific healthcare initiatives.
There are wide variations in the accuracy of different antibody tests — and Verily’s research initiative could help the medical community better understand coronavirus immunity as many states prepare to reopen. For context, a number of vendors have released their own antibody tests amid the pandemic, but only a handful have gained FDA approval for use.
Researchers at UCSF and UC Berkeley have noted that dozens of tests performed reasonably well in determining antibodies within the first two weeks of infection — only to produce a greater number of false positives that exceed the number of infected people in some regions. As some states start to resume normal operations, they may rely on using positive antibody test results as “immunity passports” enabling consumers to return to work — but researchers are still uncertain whether a positive result guarantees immunity. And the discrepancies in test results add another layer of ambiguity, as serology tests have not yet been proven to be a reliable marker in determining whether an individual has coronavirus antibodies.
So, while antibody tests have the potential to streamline the reopening process, there are still many unknowns about their impact. However, Verily is leaning on its big data brawn to resolve some of these uncertainties in its research endeavor — which could play a large role in both determining which individuals truly possess coronavirus immunity and ultimately restarting the economy.
Verily’s play is just the latest in a series of coronavirus-specific healthcare moves the life sciences giant has made across multiple corners of the ecosystem. Verily has been busy rolling out coronavirus initiatives over the last two months: It debuted an online screening survey for individuals who may have been exposed to the virus in March, and in April launched a coronavirus screening platform to help automate health systems’ frontline response, unveiled drive-through testing sites across California, and released guidelines to aid government organizations and public health departments in initiating their own testing sites.
The firm’s speedy rollout of coronavirus-related initiatives is just its latest move to cement itself in the healthcare space, which it was already working toward pre-pandemic: It partnered with Emory Healthcare to analyze medication ordering patterns and is forging a tie-up with genetic firm Color to incorporate genetic insights into its research, for instance.
If its research study presents promising results, we could see Verily score future tie-ups with health systems to roll out its antibody tests to help control future outbreaks. With a second wave of outbreaks looming over the US, having reliable serology tests on deck would be need-to-have for health systems to assess whether individuals have gained immunity or are still susceptible to the virus.
Verily is no stranger to health systems: It has amassed tie-ups with major health systems like the Mayo Clinic and Duke University Health to expedite drug research and boost operational efficiency in the past — and we think it could build upon these existing relationships to easily roll out its serology tests. And while Verily’s antibody study is still in its early stages, if its research garners enough support for the use of antibody tests as a viable marker for immunity, we can expect to see the life sciences titan partner with additional health systems for future research studies.
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