Why Drug Giant Roche’s $1.9 Billion Deal to Buy Data Startup Flatiron Health Matters

The big headline out of the health care M&A world today is Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche’s $1.9 billion acquisition of Flatiron Health, the Alphabet-backed, cancer-focused digital health analytics upstart that’s attempting to use real world patient information and big data to spur better oncology R&D.

Flatiron’s cancer-centric electronic health records platform is linked to some 250 community oncology practices; it has a partnership with the National Cancer Institute (NCI), a part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), to improve clinical trials by gathering data at the point of care. What’s made the company appealing to venture capital outfits, the drug industry, and the government is that Flatiron doesn’t just suck in a bunch of numbers and spit them out—its datasets are curated in an effort to separate statistical noise from actionable information. That’s hard to pull off on a mass scale.

Roche was already a major investor in Flatiron with a 12.6% stake; now, it’s claiming it as a subsidiary. “This is an important step in our personalized healthcare strategy for Roche, as we believe that regulatory-grade real-world evidence is a key ingredient to accelerate the development of, and access to, new cancer treatments,” said Roche CEO Daniel O’Day in a statement. “As a leading technology company in oncology, Flatiron Health is best positioned to provide the technology and data analytics infrastructure needed not only for Roche, but for oncology research and development efforts across the entire industry.”

The acquisition could prove significant for cancer drug, diagnostics, and care development by, not only Roche, but companies across the biopharma sector—Flatiron will remain a separate legal entity, meaning it can still provide its services to other life science firms.

This essay appears in today’s edition of the Fortune Brainstorm Health Daily. Get it delivered straight to your inbox.

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