- Big data company Palantir is expanding beyond defense deals with new capabilities for life sciences.
- It comes as Palantir continues its pandemic work for government and seeks to capture that momentum.
- Palantir’s news is also evidence of growing ties between life sciences and data and cloud companies.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page
In a continued push to expand its business beyond the sometimes-controversial federal defense and intelligence contracts it’s best-known for, $42 billion big data company Palantir is making a new push into industries including life sciences and manufacturing.
That push comes in the form of new capabilities for Palantir Foundry, its product for the private sector, which will be showcased at a company event it calls Double Click on Wednesday.
Clients of Palantir Foundry include pharmaceutical companies Merck and Sanofi, according to a Palantir spokesperson, and the company is increasingly focusing on developing its artificial intelligence and machine learning modeling capabilities and controls for customers across industries and sectors, including government agencies.
Palantir’s expansion into life sciences hints at the expanding market opportunity for cloud companies in healthcare and pharmaceuticals, especially amid the pandemic, as we saw with Microsoft’s planned $19.7 billlion acquisition of AI and voice communications firm Nuance for its healthcare cloud, announced this week. Competitors Amazon and Google have also released products targeting the opportunity as the market heats up.
Palantir, notoriously tight-lipped, went public in September and has increasingly aimed to diversify its customer base and revenue, in a push that Wall Street considers essential to its long-term success. But its reputation, long tied to secrecy and more recently President Trump’s immigration policies, is inextricably linked to its origins as a tool to help the Pentagon and associated agencies sift through vast amounts of data.
The company’s Foundry announcement also comes two weeks after it revealed a new $90 million contract with the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration, the agency responsible for overseeing the country’s nuclear weapons stockpile, to supply software for its safety initiative.
Analysts previously told Insider the contract is further proof Palantir’s product is “flexible enough” to handle data from other federal agencies besides defense, and helps the data mining company expand into new types of government deals. Palantir’s product news, as well as its health-related government contracts, are also evidence of deepening ties between the life sciences industry and big data and cloud computing companies.
Pandemic-related data needs grew for government and pharma companies
Much of what Palantir is showing at Wednesday’s demo event was built over the past six to 18 months, the company said, with the pandemic accelerating its product development timelines.
Palantir has focused on access control capabilities for its software, which it says is an area of interest for government and life sciences companies that handle sensitive, highly-identifiable information about millions of people.
“We’ve been investing in platform features that are critical for life sciences work, especially around patient data privacy and security,” Kathleen McMahon, a lead for Palantir’s Healthcare and Life Sciences group, told Insider in a statement. “The scale and variety of biomedical data, coupled with new, cross-institution collaborations, makes data governance a complex topic for our clients. Our platform helps them ensure data use is necessary and proportionate for research objectives.”
Palantir’s healthcare push has already won over some customers, the company said.
Ben Amor, a lead Palantir healthcare engineer, wrote to Insider over email, “We are excited to share the recent work we have been doing with our life sciences customers such as the [National Institutes of Health], global pharmaceutical companies, and the UK’s National Health Service.”
Indeed, the pandemic led to a raft of deals for the company, including a $44.4 million contract with the Food and Drug Administration to help with data for drug approvals and the safety inspection of items like hand sanitizer, and a $36 million deal with the National Institutes of Health for its N3C Data Enclave platform, which stores the COVID-19 clinical data of nearly 5 million people.
Last April, the Department of Health and Human Services awarded Palantir contracts totalling $24.9 million for HHS Protect, its central COVID data collection and analysis platform.
But it also invited criticism from lawmakers and privacy advocates, who questioned the sharing of personal data with the company, whether it would be used in conjunction with Trump’s immigration crackdown, and why the contract was awarded to Palantir, which was cofounded by prominent Trump supporter Peter Thiel. A Palantir spokesperson previously told Insider that it does not “collect, broker, or share HHS with other Palantir customers (including ICE-HSI) for any purposes other than those directed by HHS for their public health response efforts.”
Life sciences needs big data and cloud capabilities
At the same time, the growth of Palantir and other big data companies during the pandemic points to a growing relationship between the healthcare and life sciences industries and big data and cloud companies.
With the processing power offered by cloud-powered data analytics, pharmaceutical companies and healthcare organizations can much more quickly uncover clinical insights — particularly with machine learning capabilities — and optimize supply chain and manufacturing processes. But being a heavily regulated industry has constrained cloud adoption, and data is typically siloed within disparate systems and locations.
Cloud providers like Amazon Web Services have already rolled out products addressing these issues for the industry, including HealthLake, a dedicated cloud for storing health data that makes it searchable and actionable, and competitors Google Cloud and Microsoft Azure have done the same.
AstraZeneca, the biotech and pharmaceutical company that has developed a COVID vaccine, uses AWS to process its massive amounts of genomic sequencing data for drug research and development.
And Palantir, an AWS customer itself, is hoping to continue making inroads with the industry following its COVID-related government deals — some of which were fast-tracked because of the pandemic.
Amor, the Palantir healthcare engineer, told Insider in a statement he was particularly excited about Palantir helping researchers and scientists “securely collaborate on clinical data in efforts to discover new treatments, understand COVID’s impact on specific patient populations, or investigate how the social determinants of health affect real-world outcomes.”