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Alphabet’s Verily more than doubled its headcount in two years to 500 staffers

It’s not clear whether the life sciences company continues to be profitable.

Verily via YouTube

Alphabet’s life sciences company Verily more than doubled its headcount over the last year and a half, an executive who recently left the company said.

“Verily is a big company,” Dr. Thomas Insel, a neuroscientist who joined the firm in December of 2015 to lead its mental health research and development efforts, told Recode. “When I got there it was under 200 people.”

He estimated current headcount was around 700. Verily confirmed its current headcount is actually 500.

Insel, 65, left Verily earlier this month to join mental health startup Mindstrong, founded in 2013, which is working to determine how smartphone behavior may indicate mental health issues. Before Verily, he spent 13 years with NIMH, the National Institute of Mental Health.

A year ago, Alphabet co-founder Sergey Brin said Verily was profitable. It’s unclear whether that is still the case, but the rate of employee growth shows Alphabet is continuing to bet big on health sciences. Alphabet’s various divisions have reportedly come under stricter balance sheet scrutiny under CFO Ruth Porat, with divisions having to set growth and profit plans.

Insel said the health research subsidiary was doing well financially.

“Verily’s M.O. has been to develop partnerships with a range of commercial partners — from Sanofi, GSK, J&J — and to use those partnerships to create these spinouts,” Insel said. “And each of those are profitable in the sense that they bring a lot of revenue into the company.”

While he didn’t quite confirm Verily was still profitable as a whole, he added, “I think that [Brin] is right, the company has done really well.”

Verily’s projects include its baseline study aimed at collecting general health data on 10,000 participants, and contact lenses that detect glucose levels in users. The idea with the contacts is that they are less invasive than blood tests.

Google

The money, as far as we know, comes from partnerships with pharmaceutical companies such as one with Novartis. Novartis has had plans to sell the contact lenses.

His departure from Alphabet adds another notch to a list of executives who have left the Google parent company in the last year, following others like Google Access CEO Craig Barratt and head of drone delivery efforts at X, Dave Vos. Verily has seen its own exodus as well.

Insel said he is on good terms with Verily and did not view his departure as part of a larger negative trend at Alphabet. He said he left because he’s at a late phase of his career and wanted a chance to put forward something on his own.

“I didn’t think I was going to have a lot more opportunities to launch something,” he said. He felt Verily had grown too big to give him that opportunity.

“To be fair, it’s no longer a two-pizza company,” he said. He said he defines a startup as being small enough that you only need two pizzas to feed its employees.

Insel told science journal Nature that colleague Dr. Danielle Schlosser, a clinical psychologist affiliated with the University of California, San Francisco, would now be running mental health efforts at Verily.


This article originally appeared on Recode.net.

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