IBM’s Watson Health Cloud is to use large-scale analytics technologies to contribute to medical research
IBM will join with Apple and others on a cloud-computing platform called Watson Health Cloud that will seek to bring large-scale data analytics and automation techniques to the medical field.
The move is part of the company’s strategy of investing in potentially high-growth areas to offset declines in its existing businesses, while shedding lower-margin operations such as its low-end server business, sold to Lenovo last year for $2.3bn (£1.6bn).
John Kelly, senior vice president for solutions portfolio and research, told Bloomberg that with the move IBM is looking to “make a substantial difference and capture substantial share”.
The new unit, to be called Watson Health, will include at least 2,000 specialists and will provide a cloud-based repository for the vast amounts of health-related data expected to be generated by mobile or wearable devices such as smartphones and smartwatches.
Such systems, including Apple’s HealthKit, allow users to monitor data such as heart rate, calories burnt or cholesterol levels. HealthKit and ResearchKit, an Apple offering that allows users to opt into medical research programmes, will both begin running on Watson Health Cloud in the next few weeks, IBM said.
The operation is intended to store and analyse such data over the long term and on a massive scale using IBM’s Watson analytics technology, Kelly said, while also making it securely available to patients’ doctors and insurance companies. Estimating that on average a person will generate about a terabyte of medical data over their lifetime, he said Watson Health Cloud is intended to sift through all that data to find the “clues” that can contribute to medical breakthroughs.
He said Apple’s deal with IBM is not exclusive. Apple recently teamed with IBM to sell smartphones and tablets into enterprises.
Johnson & Johnson is to use IBM’s infrastructure for an automated system called Patient Athlete to help prepare patients for operations such as spinal surgery or joint replacement, and to guide them through physiotherapy after the operation.
The video-based system, announced in February, could, for instance, keep track of a patient’s weight and encourage them to do more exercise ahead of an operation if needed.
The programme could eventually be expanded to deal with other surgical interventions and to chronic diseases, Johnson & Johnson said.
The IBM-powered services could begin to be introduced beginning next year. Separetely, Johnson & Johnson recently announced a collaboration with Google to build surgical robots.
Medtronic, the largest maker of heart-rhythm devices, is to collaborate with IBM to use medical device and patient data to create nearly real-time personalised care plans, IBM said.
IBM said it is in talks with hospitals and more medical device makers around Watson Health Cloud, and said it has acquired medical data analytics company Explorys and patient-care and reimbursement software maker Phytel as part of the programme.
In similar efforts, US president Barack Obama recently asked Congress for $215m toward the development of personalised medicine, while Biogen, a maker of multiple-sclerosis drugs, said it would put fitness trackers on patients’ wrists to gather data on activity and sleep patterns. Biogen said it would team with Google to gather and analyse patient data.
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