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When Ram Iyer started his new job at the Food and Drug Administration in 2020, he didn’t know how soon he’d have the chance to prove himself. As the agency’s first chief data officer, he had been brought on to steer the FDA through an era characterized by ballooning datasets and new medical products. “At this point, with just two months in the agency, I have more questions and hypotheses than answers,” he said in a public meeting on June 30.

But the pandemic had already given him the chance to experiment. Ten days later, Iyer and his team at the FDA had tapped data on Covid-19 risk levels to deploy a tool that determined which facility inspections should be top priority during the pandemic. Developed in less than six weeks, it allowed the agency to resume inspections that had been on hold since March.

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