Novo Nordisk, IBM Watson Health to Create ‘Virtual Doctor’
Software could dispense treatment advice for diabetes patients
The IBM computer system known as Watson pictured in 2011. The supercomputer platform will analyze health data from diabetes patients to help them manage their disease. PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS
Novo Nordisk A/S is teaming up with IBM Watson Health, a division of International Business Machines Corp., to create a “virtual doctor” for diabetes patients that could dispense treatment advice such as insulin dosage.
The Danish diabetes specialist hopes to use IBM’s supercomputer platform, Watson, to analyze health data from diabetes patients to help them manage their disease.
Jakob Riis, an executive vice president at Novo Nordisk, said data from continuous blood-sugar monitors that upload readings to the Internet could be analyzed and used to inform treatment decisions.
He said that more data could potentially be incorporated into such a tool, including food intake, exercise and accurate information on the timings and dosage of insulin injections.
There are “a lot of routine issues around judgments of dosing and the whole interplay between food intake, exercise and insulin that could be better handled by AI [artificial intelligence] that can draw on a much broader source of data,” Mr. Riis said. “That is what computers typically do well.”
IBM’s Watson platform, made famous when it beat two contestants on the television game show “Jeopardy” in 2011, is a collection of artificial-intelligence software that can process and analyze vast amounts of information to spot patterns and answer questions. IBM launched its Watson Health business earlier this year to focus on applications in the sector.
Novo Nordisk isn’t the first to apply the platform to health care. One of the earlier adopters was New York’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, which in 2012 said it was working with IBM Watson to develop a tool to help oncologists draw on huge amounts of clinical data to diagnose and treat cancer. Other major hospitals have followed suit in various disease areas, and pharmaceutical companies have also gotten on board. Earlier this year, Johnson & Johnson struck up a partnership with IBM Watson Health to develop a “virtual coach” for people who had undergone knee-replacement surgery.
The Novo Nordisk collaboration will also span other projects. Mr. Riis said it would also involve analyzing the 50 million anonymized U.S. medical records held by IBM Watson Health. Those records span a cross-section of Americans, not just diabetes patients, but could be used to understand which types of treatments work best in certain groups and why some populations are better at managing diabetes than others.
He said the partnership could also help Novo Nordisk collect real-world data on patients using its drugs, which in turn could be used to strengthen its hand in negotiations with payers. It would give Novo Nordisk the “ability to document what payers are really getting,” he said.
Novo Nordisk didn’t disclose the financial details of the partnership.