Secretive group within Amazon reportedly conducting cancer research, launching health data venture

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Amazon seems primed for a bold expansion into healthcare, after speculation in recent months that the Seattle-based company was interested in the industry.

According to a report by CNBC on Tuesday, a secretive Amazon research group called Grand Challenge is working on a variety of ambitious projects that could eventually expand the company’s umbrella beyond e-commerce, AWS, and hardware. One of its initiatives is reportedly applying machine learning to cancer research, in partnership with Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, which is located near Amazon’s headquarters in Seattle. Other efforts include extracting and analyzing data from medical records, and improving last-mile package delivery.

The group is led by Google Glass creator and former leader of Google research group Google X, Babak Parviz, according to the CNBC report.

A Fred Hutch spokesperson told GeekWire in an email, “We have several projects underway with a few of our tech neighbors including Microsoft, Amazon and Tableau. Given the early stages, we don’t have any specific Amazon Web Services projects to preview but hopefully later this year.”

The secretive Amazon group, also known by the names 1492 and Amazon X, is now pitching a health venture dubbed Hera to commercial health insurance companies, according to CNBC. Grand Challenge has been developing Hera with Amazon Web Services for three years, the report says. The initiative is said to use electronic medical records to take unstructured data and identify a patient’s possible misdiagnosis. The technology could see what doctors don’t, and might help an insurance company remove inaccurate data to better assess risk.

We’ve contacted Amazon for comment regarding the group and the Hera initiative.

In January, GeekWire found that Amazon was searching for a “HIPAA Compliance Lead” to oversee compliance and security in regards to the federal health data privacy law.

The listing included a qualification of “experience with FDA and 510K process,” which indicated an interest in developing and receiving approval for a medical device or software. That could include the Hera project, which works closely with a patient’s medical data, since software that would require federal approval includes any app or tech that would be working with a patient’s care or diagnosis.

Amazon, JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Berkshire Hathaway announced plans in January to form an independent healthcare company focused initially on new technologies to serve their U.S. employees.