Amazon hires openFDA trailblazer Kass-Hout for healthcare project: report

Taha Kass-Hout during his time at the FDA. (Image: FDA)

Amazon has hired former FDA chief health informatics officer Taha Kass-Hout, M.D., CNBC reports. Kass-Hout led the groundbreaking openFDA initiative and rehabilitated the reputation of the FDA’s IT department during his three years at the agency.

Details of what Kass-Hout will do at Amazon are scarce. Based on the comments of an anonymous source, CNBC expects Kass-Hout to take on a healthcare-focused business development role at the online retailer’s Grand Challenge team. Babak Parviz, who founded Google’s smart contact lens and robotic surgery programs, runs the experimental, Google X-type group. 

The lack of details, or even confirmation of the hire from Amazon or Kass-Hout, has created space for speculation about what the company is cooking up. CNBC theorizes that Amazon may have brought Kass-Hout on board to make it easier for people to access their health records. 

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That theory fits with Kass-Hout’s record at the FDA. As the FDA’s first chief health informatics officer, Kass-Hout led the openFDA initiative that enabled researchers and the public to search and analyze adverse event data and other records held by the agency. If CNBC is right, Kass-Hout will now again try to make existing healthcare data more readily available—but on a far bigger scale. 

Later during his time at the FDA, Kass-Hout lead the precisionFDA program that established a collaborative, open approach to genomic testing references.

Across the initiatives, Kass-Hout deployed approaches that were established in tech circles but alien to the FDA prior to his arrival. Open-source projects that embraced the cloud, shared their code on GitHub and invited programmers to hackathons became commonplace. In taking this approach, the FDA sought to move faster than in the past and empower third parties to improve access to knowledge about regulated products.

Kass-Hout now faces a different challenge. Having once brought Silicon Valley-type thinking into the the FDA, Kass-Hout is now providing one of the biggest names in tech with the regulatory grounding it will need to enter healthcare.    

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