IBM Watson bet billions in health to counter Google

IBM’s artificial intelligence program is working on its deployment in Europe and refining its business model.

The future gigantic business of health data analysis will probably be held by two or three players at the most, given the prerequisites in terms of infrastructure and technology. And IBM Watson does not skimp on ways to become one of them. IBM’s artificial intelligence program has spent more than $ 4 billion a year to build its health division. However, its deployment is just beginning.

The offer of IBM Watson Health is just beginning to take shape. “On the one hand, we offer verticalized platforms in Saas, often on a flat rate basis, to serve business issues, and on the other hand a catalog of APIs billed for use to clients seeking cognitive services”, details Pascal Sempé, Watson Health Manager for IBM France. In the field of health, constrained environment, verticalized solutions are preferred. IBM Watson Health targets the entire value chain of health, insurers through hospitals, researchers, actors in the pharmaceutical industry, well-being, coaching …

Three flagship solutions

One of the solutions currently in production, and the most advanced – IBM has been working since 2013 – accompanies oncologists in their treatment decisions. “Medical information is becoming more and more complex and more and more towards a more and more personalized medicine,” says Pascal Sempé, “IBM Watson helps the doctor to make the best possible decision by giving hypotheses about best way to treat the patient. ” The solution is deployed in some US hospitals and the United Arab Emirates. “We also have projects in India, Thailand … and we hope that it will be in production in facilities in Europe in a few months.

In concrete terms, the solution analyzes the patient’s file and the doctors’ notes, extracts the important information and creates a summary sheet that gathers several hundred attributes before sending a care recommendation. These attribute sheets have enabled IBM Watson to develop its second flagship solution: used in several US hospitals, it makes it possible to check if current clinical studies correspond to the analyzed patients. “Less than 5% of patients are integrated into clinical trials around the world while about 25% would be eligible.” A boulevard so near the pharmaceutical laboratories …

Finally, IBM Watson recently launched Watson Genomic Analytics, which analyzes the genetic information of cancer patients to determine the most appropriate therapeutic strategy. It is deployed in 17 major centers in the United States but also in Japan and Canada.

Eventually, of course, IBM plans to tackle other pathologies: “We are already working on solutions for cardiovascular diseases, Parkinson’s disease, neurological diseases …”, notes the boss of IBM Watson Health France.

Only competitor of Google

IBM has been working on Watson for ten years and has significantly accelerated in the health component lately. The group is becoming a juggernaut, ingesting millions of data. He has multiplied the acquisitions of companies holding data, such as Truven and its 300 million patients, Explorys and its 50 million patients, but also Phytel, Curam, Merge … IBM also produces data internally. For example, the company has partnered with the Pfizer laboratory to collect those from Parkinson’s with sensors.

Only Google seems to be able to confront IBM Watson on the sector. “The other players can do it are few because the more time passes and the barrier to entry is high, notes Julien Maldonato, expert at Deloitte.Everyone will produce a million gigabytes of health data in his life and that number keeps going up, it will take huge infrastructure capacity to manage that data. “

The two giants embarked on an investment race to seize the sector. Google relies on Deepmind, a division specializing in artificial intelligence that has just created a health section, but also on its Calico biotechnology project. “Google clearly has the capacity to play on the same level as IBM Watson,” notes Julien Maldonato. At IBM, 4,000 employees work on the health component. In Europe, 135 million euros were invested in a health research center in Milan to develop new applications.

Financial pitfall

But for now, the health division of IBM is a financial pitfall. Ten years of work, $ 4 billion spent in one year, and very few subscribing clients. Because deployment will take time. “Hospitals are quite poor in data management, says Julien Maldonato, their data management is still very traditional while it is a prerequisite before using Watson.It is a big problem for IBM. If IBM ensures that European hospitals will use its solutions in the coming months, the Deloitte expert doubts. “Yes, they are starting to work with French hospitals but they will do the best tests on specific areas and on a very small scale in the short term.”

In recent months, IBM has begun to accelerate in France. “The program learns French and adapts to the hexagonal norms”, notes Julien Maldonato. What to begin to test the solution. “Discussions are advanced with several partners,” says Pascal Sempé. To evangelize before Google arrives on the ground …