Pharma puts Watson brain to work to speed up R&D, cut drug development costs

Johnson & Johnson and Sanofi are using IBM Watson’s computer brain/big data cruncher to support research and development. It will be used to identify new applications for drugs that have already been developed and to leaf through scientific papers that detail clinical trial outcomes, according to a statement from IBM. The partnerships follow a new […]

Johnson & Johnson and Sanofi are using IBM Watson’s computer brain/big data cruncher to support research and development. It will be used to identify new applications for drugs that have already been developed and to leaf through scientific papers that detail clinical trial outcomes, according to a statement from IBM. The partnerships follow a new development in Watson’s evolution that help it visually uncover patterns and pinpoint connections in related data to accelerate the discovery process and advance science research.

“Watson now has the ability to understand the language of chemistry, biology, legal and intellectual property, giving scientists the ability to make connections with data that others don’t see, which can lead to rapid breakthrough in discoveries,” the statement said.

In one demonstration of the technology, cancer researchers at Baylor College of Medicine published a study showing how they used Watson to analyze tens of millions of abstracts from scientific research on one cancer suppressing protein called p53. The Baylor cancer researchers discovered six potential proteins to target for new research as a result of Watson’s work. To put that in context, the announcement said it’s more common to find one potential protein target in a year. So the work is encouraging that Watson can speed up cancer research.

J&J is also using Watson to do some heavy reading but with broader applications. It will analyze scientific papers that detail clinical trial outcomes to improve and accelerate comparative effectiveness studies of various treatments. This work tends to be laborious and can take three people 10 months to go through these papers. It will allow researchers to start asking questions about the data immediately to determine the effectiveness of a treatment compared to other medications, as well as potential side effects, according to the statement.

Sanofi’s work with Watson will help it identify alternate applications for existing drugs. Watson will extract and organize toxicological information to help researchers make more informed decisions on which drug candidates to use to pursue new indications.

Although Watson has collaborated before with hospitals and institutes such as New York Genome Center on identifying appropriate treatments for cancer and brain tumors, it’s the first public announcement of pharmaceutical companies embracing the supercomputer that became known for its appearances on Jeopardy!.