Palantir appoints IBM Watson Health vet Kassler to be analytics firm's first CMO

Chief medical officers: They’re not just for hospitals anymore! Once relegated to the sterile halls of health systems, CMOs have begun popping up on the executive rosters of tech giants looking to expand their reach into healthcare.

The latest to jump on this trend is Palantir, the Peter Thiel-chaired developer of analytics software for processing the massive amounts of data collected by organizations in government, manufacturing, finance, cybersecurity and, yes, the life sciences.

Carving out the new role is William Kassler, M.D., a physician and public health expert who was most recently the CMO for government health and human services at IBM Watson Health, where he also served as deputy chief health officer.

Prior to that, Kassler held CMO roles at the New England regional office of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services. He was also previously the chief of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC's) health services research and evaluation branch.

At Palantir, he’ll lead the company’s public health and life sciences teams, which develop analytics platforms for government, commercial and international clients.

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A key part of Kassler’s new position will see him serving as something of a “translator” between the technological expertise of Palantir’s data engineers and developers and the healthcare experience of the company’s clients, he told Fierce Medtech in an interview.

“I’ve spent my career as an internist and a public health doctor at the interface between health and healthcare, at both the clinical level and the population level. I’ve always tried to use good data and good science to help inform clinical decisions at the bedside and in population health and in policy,” Kassler said.

He continued, “Today, we are really just awash with data, and what excites me about Palantir is their platform for bringing together and integrating all sorts of very, very disparate data, then curating and aggregating that data to provide new insights for payers, providers, clinicians and government.”

William Kassler
William Kassler, M.D.
Palantir's new chief medical officer

Palantir’s platform has been used in healthcare initiatives for over a decade. The first of these came in 2010, when Palantir teamed up with the CDC to coordinate foodborne outbreak data submitted without a standardized format by each state’s public health agency, Julie Bush, head of Palantir’s public and government health initiatives, explained to Fierce Medtech.

Within a few years, the company had attracted new commercial partners from the pharmaceutical, biotech and clinical sectors. Use cases for those clients run the gamut, Bush said, “from drug discovery to observational research to helping these companies with their own sales and marketing, focusing anywhere there are multiple data sources that need to be brought together to answer critical questions very quickly.”

The success of those collaborations, in turn, fueled more public-health-focused partnerships with government entities like the FDA and National Institutes of Health, with Palantir’s software being used to manage regulatory drug reviews, compliance investigations, analysis of high-throughput screening data and more.

Palantir’s health-centric projects hit a fever pitch in 2020, during which it more than doubled its business and client base in the U.S. government health and life sciences sector, Bush said. That exponential growth was driven by the company’s work to help hospitals, biotech developers and public health organizations better manage the COVID-19 pandemic, including tracking personal protective equipment shipments and overseeing vaccine distribution.

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Despite that wide (and growing) range of use cases, the common thread through each of Palantir’s solutions is the set of problems driving their development. According to Bush, those problems—and Palantir’s core areas of focus—revolve around four major needs: greater harmonization among various data sources, stronger data security and access controls, more efficient management of analytic models and better collaboration between medically minded clinicians and researchers and their data scientist counterparts.

Those four areas will drive Palantir’s efforts, under Kassler’s guidance, to help its clients continue to solve what he defined as the biggest problems in healthcare: achieving equity, delivering value-based care and developing new therapeutics. In each of those, he said, both the biggest challenges and the biggest opportunities center on data.

“The data is siloed in multiple walled gardens: It’s locked in clinical EHRs, it’s locked in unstructured notes and databases. We also have a vast amount of new data being collected from implantables, continuous glucose monitors and wearables, in addition to the newfound information being gathered on the importance of nonclinical determinants of health,” Kassler said.

“We have the ability to apply advanced analytic techniques like AI and machine learning, but we first have to get that data together and into a format that’ll let us take advantage of these wonderful technological developments,” he said. “That’s what’s really exciting about the tools that Palantir has to offer.”