Palantir, Merck KGaA form Boston venture to mine health care data
Palantir Technologies, the Silicon Valley data analytics company — and a contractor for the US intelligence community — and German drug maker Merck KGaA announced Monday they were forming a joint venture in the Boston area to help advance cancer research.
The collaboration will be called Syntropy. It will offer data analytics tools to teaching hospitals, biotechnology firms, pharmaceutical companies, and others so that scientists can detect patterns that could lead to the development of new cancer treatments.
Too often, said executives at Palantir and Merck KGaA, drug makers and academic research centers collect data from clinical drug trials but don’t thoroughly mine it or compare it with information gathered by other institutions.
Syntropy will combine Palantir’s Foundry data platform with the scientific know-how of Merck KGaA’s life sciences unit, MilliporeSigma, to sift data for potential nuggets, the executives said. MilliporeSigma has 1,600 employees in the state, including 1,000 on a massive campus in Burlington
“There have been lots of attempts to do this that have failed,” said Alexander Karp, the billionaire businessman who cofounded Palantir, of Palo Alto, Calif., and serves as its chief executive.
Syntropy customers would “get access to our software, and that would allow them to work with their data in a more effective way, and they would partner with other institutions through us,” he said.
Stefan Oschmann, chief executive of Merck KGaA of Darmstadt, Germany, said his company and Palantir will share the venture 50-50.
Neither Oschmann nor Karp would say how much the two companies are investing, how many employees Syntropy will have, or where it will be located in the Boston area.
“Sure, there will be jobs,” Karp said. “Sure, there will be offices. Sure, there will be money. But the main thing that will be created will be the advancement of medical progress.”
Palantir has attracted considerable attention in recent years for providing data-mining software to US intelligence agencies. The company was credited with helping the government and Navy SEALs hunt down Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in 2011.
However, the company has drawn criticism from civil libertarians who worry that Palantir’s data mining might violate the privacy of ordinary Americans.
Karp and Oschmann said research institutions that use Syntropy’s software to analyze health care data will continue to own the information, not Syntropy.