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SAS Institute launches healthcare industry think tank ‘CHAI’

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SAS, SAS InstituteBusiness intelligence software giant SAS Institute is launching a health industry think tank to help hospitals, payors, drug companies and others navigate the growing role that analytics and statistics play throughout the health sector.

The SAS Center for Health Analytics and Insights, or CHAI, will be formally announced Thursday at the company’s annual Health & Life Sciences Executive Conference being held this week at SAS’s Cary, North Carolina headquarters. Jason Burke, founding director of health and life sciences at SAS, will oversee CHAI as its managing director. CHAI will operate as a part of SAS’s health and life sciences division.

Burke said that while CHAI has a business development role helping to identify potential customers or partners for SAS, CHAI will also act as a think tank by conducting industry research and sharing best practices with everyone — not just SAS customers. While most entities in healthcare understand that analytics and statistics will be a part of efforts to improve healthcare, Burke said that right now, few are able to articulate these plans.

“SAS believes there’s a real opportunity to do that here,” he said.

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SAS is the software industry’s largest privately held company with $2.43 billion in 2010 revenue. The company focuses on business analytics software and services. Kecia Serwin,  vice president and general manager of health and life sciences at SAS, says SAS has provided software for companies in the health arena for much of the company’s 35-year history and healthcare remains SAS’s second-largest business segment in the United States behind only financial services.

SAS already provides services to the major health plans and large pharmaceutical companies. But Burke says that many of these companies have divisions operating in silos where the information and data do not easily move from where they are collected to where they can be used. Burke said that CHAI was formed with the goal of understanding the concerns that companies encounter within their industries. CHAI’s 16-member staff was built mostly hiring outside of SAS. Hires include veterans from Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina, GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE:GSK) and UnitedHealth Group (NYSE:UNH).

SAS’s health and life sciences business has grown as statistical analysis has increased in areas such as drug development, where analytics plays a growing role in clinical testing.  For example, SAS software is used in adaptive clinical trials where the data is analyzed throughout the trial instead of only at the end. Serwin said that such analysis helps the trials move faster, which reduces the pharmaceutical company’s costs of bringing a new drug to market.

Burke said that SAS does not intend for CHAI to step on the toes of clinical research organizations. Instead, he says that CHAI expects to partner with CROs, pharmaceutical companies and others in the healthcare space to reach consensus on statistics and analytics matters. He likens the effort to the collaborative approach that software makers take in developing software standards.

“A lot of this work has not been done before,” Burke said. “It’s going to require research and collaboration between SAS and industry.”

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By Frank Vinluan

Frank Vinluan is the North Carolina Bureau Chief for MedCity News.
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