Deborah DiSanzo - IBM Watson Health

The potential savior of IBM and leader of partners' Big Data innovations 

Name: Deborah DiSanzo
Title: General Manager of IBM Watson Health

All eyes are on Deborah DiSanzo on the heels of IBM's ($IBM) stock price falling to a 5-year low. The company's Watson artificial intelligence franchise is being counted on to overcome 15 consecutive quarters of revenue decline, and the Big Data-obsessed healthcare industry is clearly the Jeopardy-winning supercomputer's biggest market. The former CEO of Philips Healthcare was named general manager of Watson Health in September, during the ribbon cutting of the new unit's Cambridge, MA, headquarters.

IBM's Watson Health ambitions are evidenced by its spate of deals. DiSanzo has overseen the acquisitions of medical image management company Merge Healthcare for $1 billion and Truven Health Analytics for $2.6 billion. Add the acquisitions of patient engagement player Phytel and Cleveland Clinic spinoff Explorys, and the aggregate deal value tops $4 billion.

Meanwhile, competitors are emulating Watson Health. Alphabet's artificial intelligence subsidiary, Google DeepMind, just launched DeepMind Health. And a slew of startups is looking to add their capabilities to the arena which Watson Health helped to create, such as Israeli startup MedyMatch Technology, maker of software that can diagnose stroke by reading CT scans. It's worth noting that the presence of acquisitive IBM only makes it easier for these companies to find funding by increasing the odds of a lucrative "exit" for the VCs.

IBM has been frustratingly guarded about what it reveals about Watson's financial performance. But what's clear is that those outside the company are rooting just as hard for DiSanzo as are IBM employees and shareholders.

That's because of the unit's impressive list of heavy-hitting partners including healthcare providers, devicemakers and biopharma players. Big names include Apple, Boston Children's Hospital, Medtronic ($MDT), Novo Nordisk ($NVO), and Teva ($TEVA), among others. 

Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) is working with Watson Health on the development of an app that will use Watson data to assist patients with osteoarthritis in their knee. It is expected to debut in April. "The idea is we are utilizing all the data stored in IBM Watson to identify patient types and patient needs, and guide patients with OA from the point way before they will need knee surgery or knee replacement," said the executive director of epidemiology at J&J's device unit, Myoung Kim, at the BioInnovations Conference in Cambridge, MA. "Future iterations will actually utilize the data that we will collect from participating patients."

With the help of DiSanzo's Watson Health, Kim hopes to deploy healthcare analytics "to stimulate informed innovations based on data and evidence, as opposed to somebody's opinion or wishful thinking."

-- Varun Saxena (email | Twitter)

Deborah DiSanzo - IBM Watson Health

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