How can IBM's Watson aid pharma researchers?

You might know about how IBM's Watson supercomputer bested human contestants in the game show Jeopardy! in February. But there's also been some thought about what the supercomputer could do to aid humans faced with sorting through vast amounts of biomedical information to make decisions. In a recent interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, IBM's ($IBM) Dr. David Ferrucci talked about hypothetical uses of Watson in a clinical setting.

"I think what's compelling about the medical use case is that, first of all, there's a huge amount of information out there," Ferrucci told the Chronicle. "It often doesn't get considered and some of these diagnostic pieces can be very involved and very complicated but, more over, you want this evidence trail. You want to know--what did I consider? Why did I consider it? Where's the evidence for that?" 

Taking a step back from this interview, it's not hard to imagine how Watson could potentially aid drug researchers who are now faced with a dizzying amount of data in their jobs. The bioinformatics groups at major pharmaceutical companies are working on multiple fronts to help their researchers make effective decisions based on all the information available to them. And Big Pharma also has deep pockets to pay for supercomputers.

At the IBM's T.J. Watson Research Center in Hawthorne, NY, where the Watson supercomputer is being developed, the firm's researchers are already working in computational biology and other areas that hold promise in drug discovery, according to IBM. Also, Swiss healthcare giant Roche last year inked a research deal with IBM to enlist the support of the tech giant in developing cheaper and faster gene sequencing technology. So we know that Big Blue is no stranger to Big Pharma.

We'll see whether IBM's Watson grows up to be a major force in the biomedical research world. That would be a great encore to the supercomputer's stellar performance on Jeopardy!.

- Read the Chronicle's interview with IBM's Ferrucci

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