Despite healthcare success, IBM's Watson efforts no small expense

While IBM has invested heavily in Watson, and the artificial intelligence technology is paying off in innovations within healthcare and other sectors, it's performing less brilliantly for the company’s bottom line, at least so far.

“IBM has pursued big, bespoke moonshot initiatives that can take years and are extremely expensive,” Gartner research fellow Tom Austin told The New York Times. "It seems like they’re swimming upstream with that."

According to the article, the company believes more lucrative times lie ahead. IBM points to a collaboration announced Oct. 18 with Quest Diagnostics, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard as an example. The parties will combine cognitive computing with genomic tumor sequencing as a cloud service available to doctors and patients across the country.

IBM will use Quest’s and the Broad Institute’s sequencing and analysis of a tumor’s genomic makeup to reveal mutations that can be associated with targeted therapies and clinical trials. Memorial Sloan-Kettering will provide an oncology knowledge base to augment the Watson for Genomics library of medical literature and clinical trial data to help inform precision treatment options for cancer patients.

Sloan-Kettering’s OncoKB database of clinical evidence will help Watson more rapidly compare treatment options, a process that normally takes weeks for humans, according to an announcement.

Watson also will help doctors in Germany diagnose complex cases at the Undiagnosed and Rare Diseases Centre at the University Hospital in Marburg. "We need new ideas and new technology," professor Dr. Jurgen Schafer, who heads the medical team there, told BBC in reference to the facility’s more than 6,000-person waiting list.

Earlier this year, IBM announced a partnership with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to use Watson treat as many as 10,000 veterans with cancer. More recently, it's partnered with health giant Siemens to develop population health management tools, and with Philadelphia-based Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals on patient satisfaction.