In the 50 or so presentations that comprised this year’s health track at South by Southwest, big names and ambitious thinking were not in short supply. Attendees could hear about the progress of the Biden Cancer Initiative from the group’s top leaders. They could listen to “entreprenurses” share on-the-ground takes about the immediate, practical effects of the health tech revolution. They could check in with Michael Dell, who has devoted a hefty chunk of his fortune – and much of his attention – toward efforts designed to eliminate inefficiencies from medicine and medical education.
But the panel that most seemed to excite the imagination of health track loyalists was “Empowering people to own their health data,” which afforded attendees one of the most expansive overviews to date of Verily’s Project Baseline, an ambitious attempt to develop a “baseline” of good health using the data of 10,000 volunteers. While the presentation featured former FDA commissioner Dr. Robert Califf and other health tech dignitaries, its true headliner was Shore, the Verily product manager who is both a behind-the-scenes leader of the effort and Project Baseline’s primary public evangelist.
It’s a role she was born to inhabit. “I’ve always been drawn to opportunities that challenge me,” Shore says. “What we’re doing [with Project Baseline] is trying to democratize clinical research. You don’t get too many bigger challenges than that.”
Shore began her career as an analyst at JPMorgan. While there, she was approached by Alexandria chairman, CEO, and founder Joel Marcus, who shared his plans to develop a tech and life sciences ecosystem in New York City.
“What we discussed – building a science park in the heart of the city, working with academic institutions to drive collaboration – felt so big and so important,” she recalls. Shore spent a few years at Alexandria as VP, strategy, communications and marketing, a role in which she worked alongside pharma heavies such as Roche and Eli Lilly.
Shortly thereafter, Shore returned to school to pursue an M.B.A. When pondering internship opportunities following her first year at New York University’s Stern School of Business, Shore aimed high.
“I had come into contact with [current Verily CEO] Andy Conrad and heard about the mission of Google X. I thought, ‘This is going to change the world and I have to be a part of it,’” Shore says. She talked Conrad into giving her a summer internship, figuring she’d soak up the experience and perhaps come back somewhere down the road.
Shore never returned to New York or business school. “I figured I could go back and sit in a classroom and learn about how a company is built, or I could experience it firsthand with all these brilliant, diverse, passionate people,” she adds. “At the time we were in a small office space with a whiteboard. I couldn’t leave.”
The decision – “Kind of a world-class problem, right?” Shore deadpans – came with its share of sacrifices, most notably that she spent a year across the country from her husband. But it was during those first months out west that Project Baseline evolved from “just this wild idea” into something that could ultimately reshape health.
“From day one, Andy’s bigger vision was to help people live healthier, happier lives by merging healthcare and tech,” Shore continues. “But it’s also about involving [research] participants in a different way. We don’t want them to feel like subjects. We want them to feel like partners. The trust of our participants is essential to this project.”
Project Baseline takes this part of its mission quite seriously. At the SXSW panel, PB participant and Medgadget journalist Scott Jung discussed the holiday card he received from Verily, which on the surface looked like a simple image of a snowflake. But the points on the snowflake corresponded to the average number of hours of sleep Jung logged, while the intensity of its color corresponded to the average number of steps he took on a daily basis.
In a way, that could be one of Project Baseline’s great innovations: Its super-inclusive, big-tent approach to driving change within healthcare. PB is staffed by some of Google’s most brilliant engineers, designers, and creators, who work alongside world-renowned Duke and Stanford physicians and academics. Yet to hear Shore tell it, no one professional constituency leads the charge.
“What we’re trying to do, and anybody trying to improve healthcare is trying to do, won’t succeed if it’s just tech companies or academics working on it,” she explains. “You need them, but you also need participants and people from the government and so many others. You need somebody who can explain to a brilliant software engineer the difference between a consent form and a terms of service.”
Asked about upcoming goals or milestones for Project Baseline, Shore doesn’t rhapsodize about fomenting a health-outcomes revolution. Rather, she acknowledges that, for all its successes and all the excitement Project Baseline has spurred among participants and industry, it remains very much a work in progress.
“We need to take this thing we’ve built and keep building it,” she says. “How can we broaden the platform to get more people engaged? Can we get some of the innovators doing the research better tools to drive their research?”
Shore seems thrilled and even a little humbled to continue the charge at Verily, which is more or less health tech ground zero nowadays. “In the past, data [collection] was episodic – it would only be collected when you went to the doctor. Now, we have this more continuous flow from mobile phones, miniature eye sensors, you name it,” she continues. “There’s so much we can do now. It’s an incredibly exciting time in healthcare and tech.”