Gold mine of information: why women’s health research could save lives during COVID-19

Verily’s chief medical and scientific officer, Dr. Jessica MegaVerily’s chief medical and scientific officer, Dr. Jessica Mega, discusses the joint initiative Research Goes RedTM with the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women and why it’s so important in light of COVID-19.

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has put the U.S. health system in the national spotlight. As the virus continues to spread rapidly, Verily and the American Heart Association are working more closely than ever to highlight the continued importance of women’s health and well-being through initiatives like Research Goes Red.


The U.S. health system can be compared to a complex jigsaw puzzle that contains millions and millions of pieces, including health records, scientific research and real-time data that may not always accessible for immediate health and scientific good.  

Verily, a health care technology company and subsidiary of Alphabet, is driven by a mission to improve lives through better collection, organization and activation of health data. The company has teamed up with organizations such as Stanford Medicine, Duke University School of Medicine and the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women® movement to apply its approach to clinical research.

Verily’s Project Baseline and Go Red for Women’s joint initiative, Research Goes Red, aims to create the world’s largest and most engaged research registry for women. Both healthy women and those with cardiovascular health conditions are encouraged to participate – which is now needed more than ever.  

“It’s critically important to make sure women are represented when we make decisions about how best to treat patients – and we need more women involved not only for heart health research, but for conditions of all kinds,” said Verily’s chief medical and scientific officer, Dr. Jessica Mega. 

Mega noted that while cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 killer of women, women are often underrepresented in scientific research broadly. An analysis of data from ClinicalTrials.gov, one of the largest trial registries in the world, found that women represented less than 40% of the people enrolled in heart disease and stroke clinical research. Further research indicates women of color continue to be underrepresented – accounting for only 3% of clinical trial participants.1

“It’s even more dramatic when you look at women of color,” she said. “We think we can do something to help address this disparity.”

Women participating in Research Goes Red have the opportunity to learn about upcoming studies that match their preferences, contribute through research, surveys and focus groups and even test new tools and treatments. 

“It’s not just what a doctor can see in your electronic health records but also what happens to your health every day,” Mega said. “We’ve been thinking about sleep and how it impacts your health -- how do certain stressors in life affect health?”

Verily is also working with a group of scientists affiliated with the American Heart Association to ensure that women’s interests are aligned with those of researchers. In light of the current COVID-19 pandemic, Verily has also turned its attention to screening and testing for the virus, using its Project Baseline research infrastructure. It’s more important than ever to involve women in research, especially since preliminary data in the U.S. shows that chronic disease such as diabetes, chronic lung disease and cardiovascular disease may correspond to higher risk for severe COVID-19 complications. For now, Research Goes Red will continue to focus on cardiovascular disease, and with recent grants from the American Heart Association, hopes to launch several new studies focused on weight, maternal health and minority inclusion in research in the near future.2

“We heard from women that they are very interested in understanding weight and its relationship with cardiovascular disease, and we have a program moving forward to really look much more closely at some of the biological triggers there,” Mega said.

Mega hopes that the initiative will result in more robust research, new treatments and insights that may result in personalized care. 

“What excites me the most is building this community of women who are raising their hands and saying that they want to close the knowledge gap when it comes to women and heart disease,” Mega said.

“We need many people on this journey, and I’m thrilled to see the openness that we all have in the community to tackling big problems,” Mega added. “That’s what gets me out of bed every day.”

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2015-2016 Global Participation in Clinical Trials Report. https://www.fda.gov/downloads/Drugs/InformationOnDrugs/UCM570195.pdf (Pages 11,14)

Preliminary Estimates of the Prevalence of Selected Underlying Health Conditions Among Patients with Coronavirus Disease 2019 — United States, February 12–March 28, 2020. CDC/HHS Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report  2020;69:382–386. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6913e2