Is IBM Winding Down Watson Health?

IBM reported that it will no longer market Watson for Drug Discovery, one of its forays into machine learning–driven precision medicine. A spokesman for the company told STAT that the artificial intelligence product is experiencing “lackluster financial performance” and demand for the service is low.

As IBM ceases developing the drug discovery capabilities, the company said it will divert those resources to clinical trial matching and other services. Existing users will continue to receive support.

“We are focusing our resources within Watson Health to double down on the adjacent field of clinical development where we see an even greater market need for our data and AI capabilities,” a spokesperson told STAT.

Watson for Drug Discovery was designed to let users identify specific diseases, genes, or drugs for targeted research; the system uses natural language processing and other machine learning techniques to search publications and patents to find associations between them.

Although IBM highlighted examples of customers using the product to determine how pharmaceuticals function in people with unique genetic makeups, the lack of uptake in the pharmaceutical research community signals that people have been underwhelmed by the system’s performance, and questions about the value of incorporating artificial intelligence into drug development and clinical practice linger.

Source STAT, April 18, 2019.