Palantir hires former IBM Watson Health exec

A pedestrian passes a banner with the signage of Palantir Technologies during the company’s initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on September 30, 2020.

Michael Nagle | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Palantir has hired its first US government chief medical officer, a former executive from IBM’s Watson Health business, as the data analytics firm doubles its life science business.

While the company has made a name for itself in software used by state defense agencies, sales to federal government health agencies have doubled over the past year.

The company announced Monday that it has hired former IBM Watson Health deputy health officer Bill Kassler to lead public health and life sciences teams across Palantir’s national and global businesses.

Kassler said in an exclusive interview with CNBC that he will bring his clinical care and public health expertise to the role and help connect the software with researchers who might benefit from it.

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

Investing in technology 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 about the next pandemic.

He highlighted three areas that he believes can be improved with the help of technical solutions like Palantirs: mending problems in the supply chain, addressing local case variability, and eliminating racial and ethnic differences.

Palantir’s foundry platform has played an important role in the U.S. government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as in handling essential supply chains through private companies. Palantir’s technology enables researchers to combine and overlay data sets in such a way that supply chain weaknesses or hotspots for outbreaks become more apparent and they can act quickly on their findings.

On the government side, the National Institutes of Health recently started using Palantir’s platform to combine datasets from 50 different academic groups that fund them in ways that would have been cumbersome without the software.

Palantir’s technology helps groups share data in a way that protects patient identity, but enables them to gain more insight by analyzing a much larger data set than they would have access to in their individual group settings. Julie Bush, who heads Palantir’s federal health work, said the data will now be used to better understand how the Covid-19 has affected people from different backgrounds and conditions.

Bush said the type of large-scale data sharing was less common before the pandemic, but she hopes it will continue afterwards.

“People love to hoard their data,” she said. “And the pandemic has really forced people to come together and be ready to share information and put the bureaucracy aside. And of course, subject to data-sharing agreements and other things, we’ve seen incredible collaborations across government.”

Kassler said he wanted to see the technology for more everyday use cases as well. One example he gave is how the Centers for Disease Control have already used the technology to narrow the possible causes of a production-related outbreak. Rather than recalling products from a large region, Palantir can help the agency track the supply chain and determine a smaller target.

“We don’t know what the next pandemic will look like,” said Kassler. “So we have to be prepared. And to achieve this, we have to have invested in systems that have this situational awareness and enable companies to react quickly.”

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