IBM plans to expand its Watson Health business with the $2.6 billion acquisition of Truven Health Analytics, which has data on the medical costs and treatment outcomes of more than 200 million patients from thousands of hospitals, government agencies and employers.
When the deal closes later this year, IBM said Watson Health’s cloud-based technology platform, which is powered by its famous Watson supercomputer, will house one of the world’s largest and most diverse collections of health-related data, representing approximately 300 million patient records and data assets. IBM plans to leverage the Truven Health data across its existing offerings, which include Watson for Clinical Trial Matching.
“IBM’s acquisition of Truven Health Anayltics is a good example of working toward the goal to improve patient outcomes through the use of data and analytics. This is especially true as healthcare reimbursement systems move to more value-based models supported by data analytics,” said Thomas Krohn, chief development officer at TrialReach and former director of Clinical Open Innovation at Eli Lilly.
IBM has aggressively expanded its presence in the healthcare sector since creating the Watson Health unit last April. With the Truven acquisition, IBM will have invested more than $4 billion in building Watson Health’s medical data, analytics and health-related technology capabilities. IBM first acquired Explorys, an analytics company with access to some 50 million patient medical records in the U.S., and Phytel, which provides software that helps hospitals and doctors improve patient outreach and engagement. Last fall, IBM bought Merge Healthcare, a medical-imaging software company that added the ability to analyze and cross-reference medical images against 315 billion data points already in the Watson Health Cloud platform.
“The planned Truven acquisition is the next strategic piece of the puzzle for IBM Watson Health,” said Kyu Rhee, M.D., chief health officer for IBM Watson Health. “We aim to build the world’s leading health data, analytics and insights company and IBM is the only company that can deliver the unique cognitive capabilities of the Watson computing platform. The planned Truven acquisition is in line with Watson Health’s strategy to deliver to clients high-value health insights drawn from rich and diverse data, including clinical data, engagement data, medical imaging-related data, and now cost and claims-related data with Truven.”
Watson Health’s expansion is part of a rapidly growing movement in the IT sector toward building big data and technology capabilities that could inform decision making in healthcare and drug development. IT companies have invested aggressively in areas such as digitizing and storing medical records, building large databases of electronic patient records, providing data analytics capabilities and tracking health through mobile and wearable devices. Apple, for example, has entered the market with its ResearchKit software framework, which will allow researchers and drug developers to collect data from millions of patients through mobile devices, and Google also is expected to enter the marketplace.
“Healthcare has traditionally been IT laggard; however, large IT companies, such as IBM and others, have made great inroads over the past few years to bring IT innovation to healthcare,” said Steve Cutler, Ph.D., chief operating officer at Icon. “Tech companies have a strong track record of using innovation to disrupt other industry sectors and I see the same trend continuing within clinical research and healthcare, which will result in new treatments coming to market faster and ultimately better care for patients.”
Krohn said the IBM Watson Health acquisition represents an important trend in IT companies accessing data and analytics to drive improvements in healthcare technology. Yet he believes data and analytics are only a component of the overall change needed in healthcare.
“While information is powerful, engaging patients within their own trusted ecosystem is key to shifting behavior, not just understanding care options. When this engagement is combined into the shared incentives of value-based healthcare, I believe we’ll see the trend generate real change,” he said.
The acquisition bolsters Watson Health’s efforts to partner with sponsors, CROs and researchers in advancing clinical development processes. Watson Health has worked with the Mayo Clinic and Icon, for example, in pilot programs that use the IBM Watson supercomputing system to help doctors match eligible patients with appropriate clinical trial opportunities. Watson’s cognitive computing abilities can allow clinical trial sponsors to recruit very specific patient groups and model studies to fit populations. Icon, the first global CRO to use the program, initially applied Watson to a six-month pilot study involving 25 cancer trials. IBM also has formed partnerships with Johnson & Johnson, Medtronic, Novo Nordisk and Teva Pharmaceuticals.
“Both sponsor companies and CROs are seeing the benefits of technology in helping them to drive efficiencies, lower costs and engage better with patients, which is why you are seeing new partnerships emerging,” said Cutler.
The Truven Health Analytics acquisition will double the size of IBM Watson’s global workforce to about 5,000 employees and include hundreds of clinicians, epidemiologists, statisticians, healthcare administrators, policy experts and healthcare consultants. The purchase also gives Watson Health information on important categories such as medical payments, claims, drugs prescribed and clinical outcomes. IBM believes these analytics will become increasingly important as new healthcare models emerge that shift the traditional fee-for-service payment systems to reimbursements based on patient outcomes.
“Truven’s impressive team, extensive client roster and expansive data sets complement Watson Health’s broad-based team, capabilities and offerings,” said Deborah DiSanzo, general manager for IBM Watson Health. “Together we’re well-positioned to scale globally and to build first-in-class offerings designed to help our clients apply cognitive insights in a value-based care environment.”
Karyn Korieth has been covering the clinical trials industry for CenterWatch since 2003. Her 30-year journalism career includes work in local news, the healthcare industry and national magazines. Karyn holds a Master’s of Science degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was reprinted from Volume 20, Issue 08, of CWWeekly, a leading clinical research industry newsletter providing expanded analysis on breaking news, study leads, trial results and more. Subscribe »