IBM's Watson Health opening brings partnerships, launches, and skepticism

By Jonah Comstock
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IBM WatsonIBM's new health-focused venture, Watson Health, opened its headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts last week, amid the same kind of flurry of announcements and partnerships that marked its launch last April. A partnership with Teva Pharmaceuticals was one of the biggest headlines, but the company is also working with ICON, Boston Children's and Columbia Medical, and announced it just received a grant to team up with Medtronic and launch a digital health incubator in Israel.

Not everyone is bullish about IBM's move into healthcare, though. Naveen Rao and Brian Murphy, both analysts at Chilmark Research, attended IBM's launch event and questioned some of the omissions. Rao and Murphy wondered whether IBM has sufficient understanding of the healthcare space to effectively innovate in it, and whether the computing giant has an overarching strategy for healthcare.

"IBM has ambitions in a dozen or more different corners of healthcare, but has not connected the dots," they wrote. "During a panel session for example, Medtronic spoke about sending diabetics device data into Watson, and then CVS Health spoke about sending the encounter data from consumers with diabetes into Watson. Are these the same patients? Are there correlations? Who will benefit from or act on those insights – patients, care managers, primary care physicians? How, where, when will this all take place?"

They also called into question a few omissions from the overall conversation: no talk about patient-centeredness, no discussion of payers, and no opportunity for audience questions. Check out their full write-up here, and read on for a breakdown of all the recent IBM health news.

  • MedCity News picked up a report from the Israeli Ministry of Economy that IBM, as part of a group called Health O2 that also includes Medtronic, has received a grant of between $500,000 and $800,000 to launch an incubator in Haifa, Israel, to help Israeli startups develop digital health products that will be competitive in the US market.
  • Last week, IBM announced a partnership with Teva Pharmaceuticals, also an Israeli company. IBM wrote in a statement: "Teva will work with IBM on long-range platform and solutions development, with experts collaborating to enhance IBM Watson Health Cloud capabilities and explore synergies with existing Watson Health ecosystem partners. The company, which has one of the world’s largest portfolios of medicines, expects to develop solutions designed to collect and analyze real world evidence, draw powerful insights and inform a variety of initiatives such as reducing drug misuse or increasing prescribed medication adherence."
  • The company announced two new products: The IBM Watson Health Cloud for Life Sciences Compliance and the IBM Watson Care Manager. The former will help biomedical companies deal with workflow problems bringing new technology to market, while the latter will integrate capabilities from Watson Health, Apple HealthKit, and Apple ResearchKit to help providers manage population health.
  • IBM announced additional partnerships with Boston Children's Hospital, the Columbia University Medical Center, ICON, and Sage Bionetworks. Sage is notable as the developer of several of the premiere ResearchKit apps, and it will use Watson to aggregate and analyze some of that study data. Boston Children's and IBM will "will integrate Watson’s deep and iterative question and answer capability to enhance and scale the OPENPediatrics initiative", and Columbia will work with IBM on personalized genomics for cancer treatment. Clinical trial company ICON will use Watson to help recruit patients for ongoing breast, lung, colon and rectal cancer trials.

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