Palantir hires former IBM Watson Health exec as its first US government chief medical officer

A pedestrian passes a banner displaying Palantir Technologies signage during the company’s initial public offering (IPO) in front of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), Sept. 30, 2020.

Michael Nagle | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Palantir has hired its first U.S. government chief medical officer, a former executive from IBM‘s Watson Health business, as the data analytics company doubles down on its life sciences business.

While the company made its name in software used by government defense agencies, sales to health-related agencies in the federal government have doubled over the last year.

The company announced Monday its has hired Dr. Bill Kassler to lead public health and life sciences teams across Palantir’s domestic and global businesses.

Kassler, formerly deputy chief health officer at IBM Watson Health, said in an exclusive interview with CNBC that he would bring his expertise in clinical care and public health to the role, helping to connect the software to researchers who could benefit from it.

“Palantir is just an exciting group of young, talented engineers and data scientists and real, real intelligent, smart people,” he said. “But in order to deploy technology, you have to understand the theory and the logic and the practice of health care and public health. And I think we see a lot of technology companies that want to get into health but don’t know that, make mistakes because they’re not intimately familiar. And what I can bring to Palantir is my expertise as a clinician, as a public health doc, as somebody who has been working in this field for years to help with the science and the strategy and the relationships.”

Investing in tech for the next pandemic

In his new role, Kassler said, he wants to help put Palantir’s technology in the hands of researchers who can use it to make smart decisions in the next pandemic.

He highlighted three areas he believes can be improved with the help of tech solutions like Palantir’s: patching supply chain issues, dealing with localized surges of cases, and tackling racial and ethnic disparities.

Palantir’s Foundry platform has played a significant role in the U.S. government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic as well as private companies’ handling of essential supply chains. Palantir’s technology allows researchers to combine and overlay data sets in ways that can make supply chain weaknesses or outbreak hot spots more obvious, allowing them to act quickly on their findings.

On the government side, the National Institutes of Health has recently begun using Palantir’s platform to combine data sets from 50 different academic groups that it funds in ways that would have been cumbersome without the software.

Palantir’s technology helps the groups share data in ways that protects patient identities but allows them to gain more insights by analyzing a much larger data set than they would have access to in their individual group settings. Julie Bush, who leads Palantir’s federal health-care work, said the data is now being used to better understand how Covid has impacted people with different backgrounds and conditions.

Bush said such broad data-sharing was less common prior to the pandemic, but she hopes it continues after.

“People love to hoard their data,” she said. “And the pandemic really forced people to come together and be willing to share information and sort of set the bureaucracy aside. And, of course subject to data use agreements and other things, what we really saw was incredible collaborations happening across the government.”

Kassler said he wants to see the technology used for more everyday use cases, too. One example he gave is how the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has already used the technology to help narrow the possible sources of an outbreak linked to produce. Rather than recalling produce from a large region, Palantir can help the agency trace the supply chain and pinpoint a smaller target.

“We don’t know what the next pandemic will be,” Kassler said. “So we have to be prepared. And in order to do that, we have to have invested in the systems that are able to have that situational awareness and to be able to enable organizations to respond quickly.”

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