IBM Watson Speeds Drug Research - InformationWeek

InformationWeek is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Data Management // Big Data Analytics
09:06 AM
Connect Directly

IBM Watson Speeds Drug Research

IBM Watson moves from supplying known answers to tough questions to making its own discoveries in life sciences and pharmaceutical research.

Tricorder XPrize: 10 Finalist Prototypes
Tricorder XPrize: 10 Finalist Prototypes
(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

IBM's Watson cognitive computing technology has helped doctors, loan officers, corporations, and even military veterans find answers to complex questions. The next big challenge for Watson is helping researchers explore the unknown.

IBM announced Thursday that its Watson Discovery Advisor technology is now available as a cloud service. Backing up Watson's value in research roles, Baylor College of Medicine and IBM published this week a peer-reviewed study that came up with six promising paths for cancer research with the aid of Watson Discovery Advisor.

As part of Baylor's research, Watson analyzed more than 70,000 scientific articles related to p53, a protein that has been linked to many cancers. Automated analysis carried out by Watson helped Baylor biologists and data scientists identify six proteins that modify p53 and that should be targeted for new research. Most important, the discovery was made in a matter of weeks, according to IBM.

[Read about IBM's big deal with Apple: Apple, IBM Deal: When Siri Meets Watson. ]

"In the life sciences industry at large, researchers typically come across one of these target proteins per year," said IBM Watson VP John Gordon. "Baylor working with Watson found six targets, and the first two that they've taken into wet labs have been validated, so they're outpacing the industry."

The pace of biomedical research has greatly accelerated in recent years with breakthroughs in speedy, low-cost DNA analysis. What's more, leading pharmaceutical companies such as Pfizer, Novartis, and many others are routinely finding correlations among genomic, clinical trial, and de-identified electronic medical records. Where Watson stands out, according to IBM, is its cognitive computing understanding of language and chemistry to make human-like leaps in understanding at computer-analysis speeds.

"People are already finding correlations among disparate sets of data, but because Watson can understand concepts and interpret the direction of research, it can uncover relationships that are more subtle," Gordon told InformationWeek in a phone interview.

Baylor College of Medicine has published a peer-reviewed cancer study that was accelerated with help from IBM Watson Discovery Advisor.
Baylor College of Medicine has published a peer-reviewed cancer study that was accelerated with help from IBM Watson Discovery Advisor.

For example, research papers don't just declare whether proteins are related to p53 or not, drawing simple, binary conclusions; they explore whether these proteins accelerate or inhibit mutation and what chemical processes they might catalyze. Now multiply the challenge of absorbing these subtleties by 70,000 research papers.

"Even if I'm reading five papers a day, it could take me nearly 38 years to completely understand all of the research already available today on this protein," said Dr. Olivier Lichtarge, professor of molecular and human genetics, biochemistry and molecular biology at Baylor, in a statement from IBM. "Watson has demonstrated the potential to accelerate the rate and the quality of breakthrough discoveries."

IBM also announced Thursday that drug giants Johnson & Johnson and Sanofi are working with Watson to speed research initiatives. Johnson & Johnson is collaborating with the Discovery Advisor team to teach Watson to read and understand scientific papers that detail clinical trial outcomes used in evaluating treatments. The collaborators are hoping to accelerate drug comparative-effectiveness studies. Sanofi hopes to speed drug re-purposing, which is the discovery of alternative indications for existing drugs.

Among other new applications for cognitive computing, IBM recently announced that its Watson Engagement Advisor service, an application aimed at call-center and customer-support roles, is being used by USAA as a web- and mobile-support option for advising US military personnel on a range of financial and life decisions when they decide to transition to civilian life.

The Watson Discovery Advisor cloud service will initially target life sciences applications, but IBM said it also has the potential to transform research in the fields of law, education, chemical engineering, metallurgy,  and other sciences.

Integrating your private cloud with public clouds can provide agility, security, and control. But getting the minutia right is daunting. Get the new Hybrid Cloud: Details Matter issue of Network Computing Tech Digest today. (Free registration required.)

Doug Henschen is Executive Editor of InformationWeek, where he covers the intersection of enterprise applications with information management, business intelligence, big data and analytics. He previously served as editor in chief of Intelligent Enterprise, editor in chief of ... View Full Bio

We welcome your comments on this topic on our social media channels, or [contact us directly] with questions about the site.
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Oldest First  |  Newest First  |  Threaded View
<<   <   Page 2 / 2
D. Henschen
D. Henschen,
User Rank: Author
8/28/2014 | 10:44:31 PM
Re: Who would have guessed ...
That's read, interpret and make connections much faster than any human could... reading fast is just the first step.
User Rank: Author
8/29/2014 | 10:02:43 AM
Re: Asset possibility
Every time I speak to IBM about Watson, they are always very fast to stress the top role people play in using Watson. I'm not sure whether that's to allay the medical community's fears, prospective patient's worries, or because that's the reality, but I lean toward the latter -- it is the way the system is designed. Just as people might now collaborate with other human experts, then lean toward one person or another's  opinion, they can use Watson in the same manner. 
User Rank: Author
8/29/2014 | 10:04:57 AM
Re: Watson Pre-Announce-Re-Announce Syndrome
Totally agree, Susan. Not only has IBM spent a ton of resources on the technology, but they seem to be expending a lot of energy in seeking out different partnerships across an array of different organizations, each of which has an interesting take on a particular project or problem. Given the technologies Watson is based on, it will only improve as it learns, and I think it's going to be really, really exciting as it gets more mature and partners push its limits.
User Rank: Apprentice
9/4/2014 | 12:58:34 PM
Re: I wonder if Watson
Giving Watson access to Snopes would certainly help:
<<   <   Page 2 / 2
IT Careers: Top 10 US Cities for Tech Jobs
Cynthia Harvey, Freelance Journalist, InformationWeek,  1/14/2020
Predictions for Cloud Computing in 2020
James Kobielus, Research Director, Futurum,  1/9/2020
What's Next: AI and Data Trends for 2020 and Beyond
Jessica Davis, Senior Editor, Enterprise Apps,  12/30/2019
White Papers
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
Current Issue
The Cloud Gets Ready for the 20's
This IT Trend Report explores how cloud computing is being shaped for the next phase in its maturation. It will help enterprise IT decision makers and business leaders understand some of the key trends reflected emerging cloud concepts and technologies, and in enterprise cloud usage patterns. Get it today!
Flash Poll