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Scott Spangler, IBM Watson Innovations, demonstrates Watson's ability to make visual connections in scientific literature.
Scott Spangler, IBM Watson Innovations, demonstrates Watson's ability to make visual connections in scientific literature.
Photo credit: IBM

IBM to sell Watson's brainpower to speed clinical and academic research


By Darius Tahir
Posted: August 28, 2014 - 3:30 pm ET
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IBM Thursday rolled out yet another healthcare use for its Watson computing technology, namely to help academic and clinical researchers sort through mountains of research data.

Watson is known for its ability to understand natural language and develop its own conclusions from it. IBM intends to sell this newest Watson service, dubbed Watson Discovery Advisor, as a software-as-a-service product.

The new service, if it lives up to expectations, could have a major impact in fields like molecular and comparative effectiveness, its initial partners say.

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For example, Dr. Olivier Lichtarge, director of the Center of Computational and Integrative Biomedical Research at the Baylor College of Medicine, said that his group has been able to use Watson for basic research on a specific protein.

More concretely in healthcare, Johnson & Johnson is helping IBM explore comparative-effectiveness research.

“When you're doing comparative-effectiveness research, It takes six months to identify the papers,” and perform the manual data-gathering, Dr. M. Soledad Cepeda, the director of epidemiology for Janssen Pharmaceutical Research & Development, said in an interview. If Watson works as advertised, “it's going to be done in minutes,” she said.

Jesse Berlin, J&J's vice president of pharmacoepidemiology, said that one possible future for the service is to help with the firm's coordination strategy. Watson could help the firm better target its products to the right patients, for example.

In a May 14 investor meeting, IBM CEO Virginia Rometty said there were three business tracks planned for Watson: healthcare; insurance and pharmaceuticals; and as a base for other innovators to create products.

Follow Darius Tahir on Twitter: @dariustahir


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