Google has something to do with pretty much every industry in the world now. Their venture into health and medicine has been known as ‘Google Life Sciences’. But they have now announced that they have renamed themselves ‘Verily’, which slips much easier off the tongue. On the other hand, people find the Shakespearean Henry VIIIth reference a bit antiquated for such a high tech area of work.
Verily, I swear.
Verily literally means ‘certainly’ or ‘truly’. It was first used back in the 13th century and comes from Middle English. People stopped using it many centuries ago. However, since it was a word used by Shakespeare, people pick it back up every once in a while. Interestingly, it is also heavily featured in the King James Bible.
The question then becomes why Google thinks it is a good idea to use a word that stems from the time of pestilence and valiant knights. An answer to this has been given by CEO Andy Conrad.
Only through the truth are we going to defeat Mother Nature.
He stated that Verily will be moving from the conventional, tried and tested medical technologies. He wants medicine to become proactive rather than reactive and he wants to focus on prevention and not intervention. In fact, he also plans to mine existing health data in order to prevent diseases.
There has been some criticism of the name, however, particularly by brand consultants. This is mainly due to its bible connotations. Nevertheless, others recognize that Google will probably be able to turn this into an advantage as well, as explained by Zenmark’s creative director Greg Balla.
I can’t think of another association for verily but the Bible. The challenge for them is to try to move away from the heavy-handed quality attached to Verily from association with the scripture — due to everything that’s happening in our world right now. But if they can deliver on the promise, “you can trust what we are doing,” then it fits perfectly.
Balla knows what he is talking about, as his San Francisco firm was involved in coming up with the Calico name, which is another Google spin off.
Another expert, the client services director of Oakland branding firm Catchword, Kristen Pembroke, felt that there are some great positives in the name Verily as well. Her firm serves life sciences and tech companies, in particular, so she is also an authority figure on the subject. She feels that because the word ‘verily’ is quite obscure, it could actually enable the company to evolve its vision and mission as time goes by.
She felt that the name Verily has a number of particularly strong points. Firstly, it is very easy to pronounce. Secondly, it is an approachable name. At the same time, however, she acknowledges that some people may find the world somewhat too whimsical and light, particularly because it sounds so similar to the world ‘merrily’, which is about as far removed from life sciences as possible.
Verily, as it is now known and referred to, became a Google spin off a few months ago and became part of Alphabet. Alphabet is now Google’s overall holding company that also manages all its affiliated entities. Within Verily, there already is a very strong multidisciplinary team that includes engineers, doctors, data gurus and chemists. They are working together to unravel some of the world’s biggest mysteries, focusing specifically on health and disease prevention. They even have a staff philosopher in their team, who helps the company focus on the seriousness of the bigger picture. In fact, according to CEO Andy Conrad, having a philosopher on board means that they will have a better ability to understand the ‘why’ of people’s overall actions with regards to their health. He feels that a philosopher is able to offer an insight that someone like a chemist would not be able to do.
Verily has been around for a while. It actually started when Google took it upon itself to design a contact lens suitable specifically for people with diabetes. The lens includes a chip that constantly monitors the levels of glucose present in tears. Today, they have evolved from that and now look at the bigger health issues, which affect millions of people around the world. These include things like cancer, cardiovascular disease, and also mental health. As such, it is a very forward thinking company that is making great strides in creating a better, healthier world for everybody. They have already created a number of other wearable devices since the diabetic lens, many of which are miniature sensors. Some of their more popular items include the diagnostic tool that is based on nanoparticles, which is able to detect serious illnesses including cancer at a very early stage.
Dr. Jessica Mega is the chief medical officer at Verily. She is heading what is known as a ‘baseline study of human health’. The goal of this study is to determine what the definition of ‘healthy’ is according to human perception. She believes that when there is a greater understanding of human variability, this will work towards helping to prevent disease. In so doing, she hopes that Verily will be able to create individualized treatments, which focus on environmental, behavioral, genetic and biological data. This will be a huge step away from the way the pharmaceutical industry works today.
Verily is incredibly ambitious. Unfortunately, at present, it only employs about 100 people, who are all based at the Mountain View, CA, campus of Google. They also have a very small office in Cambridge, MA. Further collaborations are on the cards and it is hoped that they will soon be able to get Novartis, the pharmaceutical giant, on board with some of their projects. Novartis is set to release the diabetic contact lens to the commercial market. Additionally, they are working together with a number of universities, including Duke and Stanford, to complete the baseline study.
Ambitious though it may be, CEO Andy Conrad wants people to be cautious and humble, paraphrasing lawyer and civil libertarian Clarence Darrow.
We don’t claim to know what other ignorant men are sure of.