Like Google, IBM Watson is Targeting Diabetes


Danish diabetes pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk announces that it will work with IBM Watson Health to co-develop new online resources designed to personalize care plans for diabetic patients. The Wall Street Journal reports that the new solution will integrate with continuous glucose monitors to track blood sugar levels and make personalized insulin dosage recommendations. Novo Nordisk’s Executive Vice President Jakob Riis explains, “a lot of routine issues around judgments of dosing and the whole interplay between food intake, exercise, and insulin that could be better handled by AI that can draw on a much broader source of data.” Interestingly, Riis reports that unlike earlier Watson R&D partnerships, Novo Nordisk also plans to analyze the 50 million anonymized patient records contained within Watson to quantify the value that its medications bring to population health, information that it will use to negotiate better prices with payers. Lastly, Novo Nordisk will analyze records to learn more about what kinds of medications work best in certain populations. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

For IBM, partnerships like these have become commonplace. IBM has signed a multitude of hospitals to work with it on precision medicine projects that all center around the idea of pushing new research findings into clinical practice faster. Fourteen cancer centers, including MD Anderson and other prestigious facilities, are working on Watson-related projects. In May, Epic partnered with IBM and Mayo Clinic to co-develop more precise clinical decision support alerts. In September, it signed a deal with Johnson & Johnson to help it develop an app designed to improve post-surgical recovery for total knee replacements. The company has partnered with dozens of businesses representing every institution type in healthcare, but between the deals, a trend is emerging.

While early on, IBM was signing a disproportionate number of clients interested in working on cancer care. IBM now seems to have shifted toward diabetes. This summer, IBM announced that it was working with CVS to develop predictive algorithms that would help the retail pharmacy chain better manage its customers’ chronic conditions, with a noted interest in diabetes medication adherence monitoring. The focus on diabetes intensified in November, when IBM signed a partnership with medical device manufacturer Medtronic to co-develop personalized diabetes management solutions. Now, with Novo Nordisk on board, IBM is collaborating on the project with retail pharmacists, device manufacturers, and pharmaceutical companies that all have a significant interest in diabetic care.

While IBM works to build the first supercomputer-powered disease management platform, Google is also taking up a front against diabetes. For its part, the company is building far more advanced medical devices designed to make monitoring blood sugar levels easier and more painless.

With Google pursuing hardware innovation and IBM building a supercomputer-powered analytics engine, diabetes may soon be the first chronic condition to bear the full weight of modern technological innovation. The question that remains is will any of it make a difference in cost or outcomes.

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