HEALTH

New IBM Watson Health unit expected to transform health and wellness

BY Michael Johnsen

 

 
ARMONK, N.Y. — IBM and its significant data analytics capabilities is expected to drive collaborative healthcare innovation with the creation of IBM Watson Health, a new business unit responsible for building and growing the Watson Health Cloud, the company announced Tuesday. The HIPAA-enabled Watson Health Cloud will enable secure access to individualized insights and a more complete picture of the many factors that can affect people's health. 
 
"Watson Health builds on years of collaborative relationships with leaders across the healthcare ecosystem," said Michael Rhodin, SVP, IBM Watson. "The groundbreaking applications of Watson's cognitive computing capabilities by medical clients and partners clearly demonstrated the potential to fundamentally change the quality, efficiency and effectiveness of healthcare delivery worldwide. We're excited to broaden access to world-class technology and to work with our partners to transform health and wellness for millions of people."   
 
IBM will open a headquarters location for the new unit in the Boston area and expand its Watson presence in New York. It will dedicate at least 2,000 consultants, medical practitioners, clinicians, developers and researchers to design, develop and accelerate the adoption of Watson Health capabilities. The new unit will include IBM's existing Smarter Care and Social Programs practice, which was created three years ago following the acquisition of Curam Software, a leading provider of health and social program management solutions.
 
The future of health is all about the individual, IBM noted. With the increasing prevalence of personal fitness trackers, connected medical devices, implantables and other sensors that collect real-time information, the average person is likely to generate more than one million gigabytes of health-related data in their lifetime (the equivalent of more than 300 million books). 
 
However, it is difficult to connect these dynamic and constantly growing pools of information with more traditional sources such as doctor-created medical records, clinical research and individual genomes – data sets that are fragmented and not easily shared. A highly scalable and secure global information platform is essential to pull out individualized insights to help people and providers make timely, evidence-based decisions about health-related issues.
 
"All this data can be overwhelming for providers and patients alike, but it also presents an unprecedented opportunity to transform the ways in which we manage our health," stated John Kelly III, IBM SVP, solutions portfolio and research. "We need better ways to tap into and analyze all of this information in real-time to benefit patients and to improve wellness globally. Only IBM has the advanced cognitive capabilities of Watson and can pull together the vast ecosystem of partners, practitioners and researchers needed to drive change, as well as to provide the open, secure and scalable platform needed to make it all possible."
 
Extending the company's exclusive Watson cognitive computing platform, IBM is:
 
  • Entering new partnerships with leading companies including Apple, Johnson & Johnson and Medtronic to help optimize consumer and medical devices for data collection, analysis and feedback;
  • Acquiring Explorys and Phytel to advance its healthcare analytics capabilities; and
  • Establishing a dedicated business unit – IBM Watson Health, to be headquartered in the Boston area.
 
IBM is collaborating with Apple, Johnson & Johnson and Medtronic to create new health-based offerings that leverage information collected from personal health, medical and fitness devices. The results will be better insights, real-time feedback and recommendations to improve everything from personal health and wellness to acute and chronic care. These relationships are non-exclusive, and IBM anticipates many more companies to leverage the Watson Health Cloud platform.
 
IBM and Apple will expand their partnership with IBM Watson Health Cloud to provide a secure cloud platform and analytics for Apple's HealthKit and ResearchKit. This will support health data entered by customers in iOS apps and also arm medical researchers with a secure, open data storage solution with access to IBM's most sophisticated data analytics capabilities
 
Johnson & Johnson will collaborate with IBM to create intelligent coaching systems centered on preoperative and postoperative patient care, including joint replacement and spinal surgery. Solutions will be mobile-based, accessing the Watson Health Cloud and leveraging IBM Watson's cognitive capabilities. 
 
Johnson & Johnson will also look to launch new health apps targeting chronic conditions, which currently cost consumers as much as 80% of the $7 trillion global healthcare spend.  Medtronic will leverage the Watson Health Cloud insights platform to collaborate with IBM around delivery of new highly-personalized care management solutions for people with diabetes. The solutions will receive and analyze patient information and data from various Medtronic devices including insulin pumps and continuous glucose monitors, and use this information to provide dynamic, personalized diabetes management strategies to patients and their providers. 
 
To complement its existing capabilities, IBM has reached agreement to acquire Cleveland-based Explorys and Dallas-based Phytel, two healthcare technology companies that are widely recognized for their leadership in applying Big Data and analytics to help improve the quality of health for individuals and large population groups.
 
A spin-off from the Cleveland Clinic in 2009, Explorys' secure cloud-computing platform is used by 26 major integrated healthcare systems to identify patterns in diseases, treatments and outcomes. It integrates more than 315 billion clinical, financial, and operational data elements, spanning 50 million unique patients, 360 hospitals and more than 317,000 providers. Market intelligence firm IDC just named Explorys global leader in Healthcare Clinical and Financial Analysis.
 
Phytel develops and sells cloud-based services that help healthcare providers and care teams work together to ensure care is effective and coordinated in order to meet new healthcare quality requirements and reimbursement models. It was just named the leader in the population health management category by the 2014 Best in KLAS Awards: Software & Services. 
 
The acquisitions bolster IBM's efforts to apply advanced analytics and cognitive computing to help primary care providers, large hospital systems and physician networks improve healthcare quality and effect healthier patient outcomes.
 
Terms were not disclosed for either deal.
 
Building on strengths in cognitive computing, analytics, security and cloud, the new Watson Health unit aims to dramatically improve the ability of doctors, researchers and insurers to innovate by surfacing new insights from the massive amount of personal health data being created daily. 
 
The Watson Health Cloud platform allows this information to be anonymized, shared and combined with a dynamic and constantly-growing aggregated view of clinical, research and social health data. IBM and its vast ecosystem of clients, partners and medical researchers can surface new connections between these diverse and previously siloed healthcare data sets, and spur the creation of a new generation of data-driven applications and solutions designed to advance health and wellness. Individual patients and larger health populations alike will benefit as providers share and apply those insights in real-time to drive better, faster and less expensive treatments.
 
The medical community is one of the earliest adopters of Watson cognitive computing technology, where IBM has collaborated with leading hospitals and research institutes including Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, the Cleveland Clinic, the Mayo Clinic and the New York Genome Center to advance Watson's healthcare capabilities and to help transform how medicine is taught, researched and practiced.
 
Innovative partners including Welltok, Modernizing Medicine, Pathway Genomics and GenieMD are already using Watson's cognitive computing capabilities, giving rise to a whole new breed of health apps that are redefining how individuals and organizations think about personal health management. Cognitive computing systems learn and interact naturally with people to extend what either humans or machine could do on their own. They help human experts make better decisions by penetrating the complexity of Big Data.
 
IBM has received more than 1,300 patents in healthcare, life sciences and medical devices. Its invention of the excimer laser used for LASIK surgery was awarded the National Medal of Technology in 2011, and Blue Gene, the first supercomputer to successfully model protein-folding, received the award in 2009.
 

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FDA approves urinary incontinence device as OTC

BY Michael Johnsen

BROOKFIELD, Wis. — The Food and Drug Administration on Monday cleared InControl Medical's ApexM for over-the-counter sale to treat stress, urge and mixed urinary incontinence in women.
 
The ApexM provides muscle stimulation through a customizable probe to strengthen the pelvic floor and calms spasms of the bladder muscle, decreasing urgency. ApexM is one of only three devices available for the treatment of urinary incontinence in women. The others — also manufactured by InControl Medical — require prescriptions.
 
ApexM will retail for a suggested $299, the company reported.
 
"ApexM should be the first line of treatment for women with urinary incontinence," said Herschel Peddicord, president of InControl Medical. "This product is highly efficacious, simple to use and by far the least expensive treatment available for female urinary incontinence."
 
Stress incontinence occurs when a woman laughs, sneezes, coughs or exercises. Urge incontinence is characterized by the constant urge to use the bathroom. Mixed incontinence is a combination of both. ApexM treats all three conditions, rendering expensive urodynamic testing to diagnose the type of incontinence unnecessary.
 
According to the National Association for Continence, up to 40 million women in America have experienced bladder leakage issues at some point in their lives. A study shows almost half of new mothers experience incontinence following normal delivery and about one in six following cesarean section. Up to two-thirds of women who "leak" have never mentioned it to their physicians and just as many do not use any treatment or product to manage their bladder leakage.
 

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New York Senator calls on FDA to ban BMPEA-containing supplements

BY Michael Johnsen

NEW YORK — Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., over the weekend added his voice to the controversy swirling around BMPEA, criticizing the Food and Drug Administration for having not already acted to ban this ingredient from the market, according to a story in The Wall Street Journal published Sunday
 
According to the report, Schumer warned that consumers may not know that they are ingesting the stimulant because BMPEA is often listed on federally regulated labels as “Acacia rigidula.” Consumers have “knowingly been deceived by a number of companies that produce dietary supplements,” Schumer said, according to The Wall Street Journal. “It would be bad enough if this were going on without the FDA catching wind of it, but the truth is that the FDA has known about it for two years and done nothing.” 
 
"The Natural Products Association strongly believes that banning products containing BMPEA is an unrealistic way for the FDA to remove them from store shelves, and is a waste of the agency's time and resources," countered Daniel Fabricant, CEO and executive director for the Natural Products Association and former director of the Division of Dietary Supplement Programs at FDA. "The proposed ban is not based in the reality of how food and drug law actually works. The agency has several stronger and quicker tools it can rely on to go after products that it feels pose a threat to consumers, including mandatory recall authority and administrative detention," he said. "What's more, the FDA has the necessary expertise on staff to determine whether BMPEA is dangerous, and if and how it should be removed from the marketplace. While many have questioned whether BMPEA is a legitimate dietary ingredient, that decision is ultimately up to the FDA, and the agency can use its power to take action against companies that have not filed New Dietary Ingredient notifications. The FDA has always had full regulatory authority over dietary supplements, and protecting public health is at the forefront of its mission. NPA supports FDA exercising its full regulatory authority under the law if it finds valid safety concerns with certain products."
 
The controversy was most recently brought to bear by a Harvard Medical study published last week in the journal Drug Testing and Analysis, in which the lead researcher Pieter Cohen called for the FDA to immediately ban BMPEA or Acacia rigidula, a supplement with weight loss marketing claims. 

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