IBM ramps up Watson with products and partnerships

Big Blue offers new tools and highlights some of the providers tapping into its supercomputer
By Eric Wicklund
10:31 AM
IBM Watson

IBM on Thursday appointed a general manager for its Watson Health unit, revealed two new products, established a global headquarters for its supercomputer, and announced several partnerships.  

Former Philips Healthcare CEO Deborah DiSanzo steps into the new role of Watson Health general manager and is charged with growing the cognitive computing unit that IBM established in April. DiSanzo joins IBM amid a flurry of activity around Watson.

IBM's initially-surprising partnership with Apple integrates Watson Health with both ResearchKit and HealthKit platforms for Care Manager to enable personalized patient engagement tools.

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The company also unveiled IBM Watson Health Cloud for Life Sciences Compliance, a service designed to enable biomed customers to move more of the drug life cycle into the cloud. 

A home of its own
DiSanzo will work at the new Cambridge, Mass., global headquarters for IBM Watson Health – which will serve as a hub for many of the new partnerships IBM also detailed on Thursday.

IBM will be working with Boston Children's Hospital, Columbia University, Sage Bionetworks, Teva Pharmaceuticals and ICON plc on a number of initiatives ranging from chronic disease management and pediatrics to clinical research and population health.

Boston Children's Hospital, for instance, will be integrating Watson in its OPENPediatrics program, which seeks to incorporate big data and analytics for personalized medicine, critical care and heart health. BCH researchers will also use Watson Genomic Analytics in research on rare pediatric diseases.
At Columbia University Medical Center, IBM Watson will be used by oncologists at the Columbia Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center to develop personalized cancer care treatment programs based on DNA analysis. Columbia becomes the 16th cancer center to use Watson Genomic Analytics to develop precision medicine platforms.

IBM Watson Health's work with ICON, Sage Bionetworks and Teva Pharmaceuticals focuses on the company's IBM Watson Health Cloud for Life Sciences Compliance, which is designed to advance and improve clinical and research trials. Officials said an estimated 80 percent of all clinical trials are delayed or ultimately fail because of patient enrollment issues, and only 2 percent of eligible patients actually become trial subjects. 

End goal: Analytics and population health
There's a pattern to be gleaned from IBM's initiatives ratcheting Watson up for healthcare providers: Big Blue tends to cluster several major announcements together. 

The partners announced on Thursday, in fact, join a growing list of healthcare and pharma companies working with IBM Watson Health, including CVS Health, MD Anderson, Medtronic, Memorial Sloan Kettering, Yale University, and others. 

Back in mid-April IBM also bought two companies, Explorys for its cloud-based data analytics technology and population health vendor Phytel, announcing both of those on the same day. 

All of these moves, taken together, advance the strategy that IBM senior vice president Mike Rhodin described in a prepared statement as "driving a new era of health, enabling entrepreneurs and industry leaders to address diverse needs, spanning the earliest stages of research all the way through to clinical care and population health through to consumer wellness." 

A version of this article originally appeared on Healthcare IT News sister site mHealth News