IBM plans $150M Italian investment as Watson Health goes global

IBM Watson

IBM ($IBM) is to establish a beachhead for its European health expansion plans in Italy. The move takes the form of a planned $150 million investment in a Watson Health European Center of Excellence in Milan, which IBM sees acting as the basis of its attempts to grow its healthcare and life science R&D business in the region.

Italy is central to the first phase of the strategy. IBM is pitching the $150 million investment, which it plans to make over the next several years, as a way to help Italy fulfill its ambitions to become a major international player in genomics, Big Data, aging and nutrition. The stated ambitions of the Italian government overlap with those of IBM. Over the past year, IBM has moved quickly to push its cognitive computing system into healthcare-related the sectors, making a string of acquisitions and signing up to collaborations with Apple ($AAPL), Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) and others in the process.

The deal with Italy adds the country to IBM's multi-front advance into healthcare. "Italy is important to IBM--not only because of the creativity, skills and talent of the country's workforce, but also because of the government's efforts to digitize Italy's economy," IBM Europe SVP Erich Clementi said in a statement. "That is why we are excited to announce our new Watson Health European Center of Excellence near Milan, which will support the Italian government's healthcare reform and research agenda by bringing together Watson developers and IBM Research scientists."

In the longer term, setting up the Watson Health Center of Excellence near to the Human Technopole Italy 2040 research campus is intended to support the tech veteran's wider activities in the region. IBM has framed the center as a continuation of its attempts to position Watson as the centerpiece of the healthcare ecosystem, a strategy that is already well underway in the U.S. The hope is that the site in Italy will connect Watson to the network of IT startups, life science R&D operations and healthcare reform agendas that exist in Europe.

As in the U.S., the long-term success of the initiative from a business perspective--and with regards to its ability to deliver on the hype surrounding Watson--is unclear at this stage. 

- read the statement