With billions of dollars at stake, Merck and Palantir partner to discover drugs faster

Merck, the German multinational chemical and pharmaceutical company, is teaming up with Silicon Valley’s highest-profile data and analysis software company, Palantir, to more quickly develop new drugs and, hopefully, improve patient outcomes.

The idea at the start is for the companies to partner on three of Merck’s business sectors: healthcare, life sciences, and performance materials.

TechCrunch couldn’t make it to Palantir for an on-site announcement about the deal this morning, but founder and CEO Alex Karp said in a statement that, “When something like cancer is killing 8.2 million people each year we want to do everything we can to apply our technological expertise to the fight alongside partners who have been there since the beginning.”

The companies aren’t discussing terms of the deal in any great detail, though Palantir has motivations beyond the purely altruistic, of course. Specifically, it will see some upside if its work leads to a promising drug or combination of drugs that achieve meaningful commercial success, according to both companies.

We’re hoping to talk with either Karp or Merck CEO Stefan Oschmann this afternoon for more details, including whether Palantir’s work with Merck will preclude it from working with competing pharmaceutical giants like Bristol-Myers Squibb. (It’s probably safe to assume that it will.)

Certainly, it’s a feather in the cap of Palantir. Not only does it demonstrate that the richly valued company isn’t reliant on U.S. government contracts alone, but there’s a lot of money at stake, with the market for lung cancer patients valued at $10 billion a year alone.