IBM ($IBM) has agreed to buy healthcare data business Truven Health Analytics for $2.6 billion. The deal, which takes IBM's spending on healthcare M&A over the past year beyond $4 billion, continues the tech veteran's drive to give its Watson computing system access to a deep, broad repository of health data.Deborah DiSanzo, Watson Health General Manager
Specifically, acquiring Truven will give IBM access to commercial claims data, a resource researchers can dig into to show how much insurers are spending in which areas of healthcare. Truven is already using its data to help biopharma companies with drug positioning and other tasks related to market access and health economics. And, in theory, Truven's ability to deliver such insights should ratchet up when its data are combined with those already possessed by its new owner, especially if Watson can live up to the superior analytic capabilities claimed by IBM.
IBM is characteristically optimistic about the potential of its data analytics to improve healthcare. "We can combine our data sets together, including one of the largest democratized health records with electronic health records from Phytel, Truven, claims data, imaging data, genetics, medical health data and from all of that we can run analysis," Deborah DiSanzo, general manager of Watson Health, told Fortune. "This combination of data, analysis and insights will help healthcare providers, payers and individual consumers."IBM's John Kelly
The list of types of health data reeled off by DiSanzo is a reflection of IBM's M&A activity since it set up Watson Health. IBM kicked off its M&A binge in April with the acquisitions of Phytel and Explorys, which collectively gave it access to data on 95 million patients. In August, IBM added imaging data to the library accessible by Watson when it coughed up $1 billion to acquire Merge Healthcare. Buying Truven moves the number of patient lives in IBM's repository past the 300 million mark, a figure it thinks will prove sufficient to support its ongoing attempt to expand in healthcare and life sciences.
"We have all of the major data sets that we need," John Kelly, IBM's SVP of solutions portfolio and research, told the Wall Street Journal.