IBM ($IBM) has opened up its Watson supercomputer to drug researchers through a new cloud-based service. And Big Pharma companies are already on board, with Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) and Sanofi ($SNY) among the early adopters of the technology.
|Baylor College of Medicine's Dr. Olivier Lichtarge|
The service, Watson Discovery Advisor, is a R&D-focused offshoot of the technology that won Jeopardy! in 2011. To make the platform more useful to researchers, IBM said it has equipped Watson to understand the interaction of chemical compounds and create maps of data connections. The raw power is the highlight, though. Baylor College of Medicine's Dr. Olivier Lichtarge said he analyzed 70,000 articles on a protein using Watson, a process that would take decades if done manually.
"Watson has demonstrated the potential to accelerate the rate and the quality of breakthrough discoveries," Lichtarge said in a statement. J&J is also using the system to analyze research papers. The aim of the project is to teach Watson to read and make sense of clinical research outcomes published in journals. By applying Watson's computing horsepower to the task, J&J hopes to cut the time it takes to run comparative effectiveness studies.
Sanofi is trying to use Watson to fast-track discoveries too, with the French Big Pharma applying the technology to research on new uses for old drugs. Such computer-driven drug repurposing projects are already underway at other organizations using different technology--Dr. Atul Butte's NuMedii is a high-profile example--but Watson may be able to crunch the data faster.