Google has hired a long-time Food and Drug Administration official to lead its digital health strategy and regulatory efforts.
Bakul Patel will be senior director of global digital health strategy and regulatory at Google, he said on LinkedIn Monday. Patel has held digital health leadership roles at the FDA since 2014, most recently as chief digital health officer of global strategy and innovation.
"I am looking forward to learning from the teams in health across Google and Alphabet and helping build a unified digital health and regulatory strategy," Patel said. A Google spokesperson confirmed Patel's new role in an email.
Patel in April had said he would leave the FDA in early May, saying he wanted to explore his "next chapter."
He spearheaded FDA digital health programs, including launching a Digital Health Center of Excellence within its Center for Devices and Radiological Health in 2020. The center, which Patel led until his promotion to chief digital health officer earlier this year, centralizes digital health work across the FDA—coordinating efforts to "modernize" how digital health is regulated, improve data-sharing and bolster cybersecurity for medical devices.
Under his leadership, the FDA last year released its first "action plan" on regulating medical software that incorporates artificial intelligence and machine learning.
Patel also helped develop the FDA's Digital Health Software Precertification Program, a pilot to test reviewing product developers, rather than individual devices, in 2017.
The FDA has not named a new chief digital health officer, an agency spokesperson said via email. Brendan O'Leary, deputy director for the division of digital health in the Center for Devices and Radiological Health, is serving as acting director of the Digital Health Center of Excellence.
Google has been developing medical algorithms and devices through its research and Fitbit divisions, as well as with its sister company Verily, Alphabet's life sciences research subsidiary.
Google has hired several high-profile health executives as it builds its health work, including hiring Dr. Robert Califf in 2019. Califf, who served as FDA commissioner during the Obama administration, has since returned to the FDA to serve as commissioner for the Biden administration.
Google in 2019 also hired Dr. Karen DeSalvo, who previously led the Health and Human Services Department's Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, as its first chief health officer. Verily last year tapped Dr. Amy Abernethy, the FDA's former principal deputy commissioner of food and drugs, as president of clinical studies platforms.
Patel in his LinkedIn post Monday said that digital health will aid the healthcare industry in reaching underserved populations, as well as predicting disease earlier to keep people healthier and out of the hospital.
"We are in the early stages of this journey, and there is a lot of work ahead," he said. "But the potential of applying technology to improve health at scale can mean better health for everyone in our lifetime."