- IBM is launching a 10-year partnership with academic medical giant the Cleveland Clinic to apply its quantum computing, cloud and artificial intelligence capabilities to drug development and pathogen research.
- The goal of the new joint center announced Tuesday, called the "Discovery Accelerator," is to streamline data collection and analysis to speed research into viruses and genomics, among other areas like population health, and spur the development of new tools and therapies for a variety of diseases.
- The joint IBM-Cleveland Clinic venture will also investigate new approaches to public health crises to look for proactive ways to head off the next viral emergency, avoiding another COVID-19 catastrophe, the two companies said.
Big data has flooded the medical industry of late as major hospitals ink deals with tech behemoths to utilize their millions of health data points to R&D. This latest deal between IBM and Cleveland Clinic takes a step beyond similar partnerships by adding quantum computing, a faster and futuristic way of processing data, into the mix.
Through the decade-long partnership, IBM will manage cloud-based computing for Cleveland Clinic's new Global Center for Pathogen Research & Human Health. The facility was introduced in January supported by a $500 million investment by the academic medical center, the state of Ohio and an economic development nonprofit.
IBM will also install one of its quantum computers onsite at the center — the first in the U.S. outside of an IBM facility, making Cleveland Clinic the first private sector institution to buy and operate an IBM quantum computer, called the Quantum System One. The computer company also plans to install the first of its more powerful next-gen quantum systems at Cleveland's campus in the following years, though those computers are still in development.
Quantum computers process information in a fundamentally different way than normal ones, allowing them to test multiple solutions to a single problem at the same time. That results in an exponentially quicker processing speed and faster results, which could go far in expediting the lengthy processes involved in medical research and the development of new pharmaceuticals.
Currently, research suggests it takes an average of 17 years to get a drug to a patient from the moment of scientific discovery.
IBM and Cleveland Clinic also said they will focus on training a workforce on data science and quantum computing, with research priorities of analyzing viral genomes and vaccine development. The joint center also plans to develop tools to predict outcomes and best treatments for COVID-19 patients, along with calculating risk for developing long-term complications from the disease, Lara Jehi, chief research information officer at Cleveland Clinic, told Axios.
Tech giants like Microsoft, Google and Amazon have inked a flurry of partnerships with health companies as they step into the lucrative medical R&D space. In 2019 alone, Walgreens, Providence and Humana reached data-storage agreements with Microsoft; EHR vendor Cerner named Amazon Web Services its preferred cloud host; and nonprofit academic medical center Mayo Clinic inked a 10-year deal with Google — though no such deals included quantum computing.
However, many clinicians have aired a slew of concerns about applying advanced computing techniques like AI in healthcare, especially when it comes to diagnostics. Research on such algorithms' efficacy in the exam room is mixed, and critics worry algorithms trained on incomplete or inequitable datasets could exacerbate existing health disparities in the U.S., or harm quality of care.
And trust in AI hasn't been helped by IBM itself, following the high-profile and embarrassing fall of Watson Health, IBM's effort to revolutionize the medical sphere using AI. Watson Health was marketed as a breakthrough in cancer treatment and drug discovery, but the business fizzled in recent years as it came to light IBM had very little data to back up its glowing reviews. Watson Health is now reportedly up for sale.