Watson Takes on Parkinson’s Disease
Researchers challenged by the volume of data can use cognitive tools to help organize and prioritize.

IBM Watson, long touted for its potential in healthcare, is being put to work finding a drug to treat Parkinson’s disease.

The Ontario Brain Institute (OBI) and University Health Networks (UHN) in Toronto, Ontario, is adopting IBM Watson for Drug Discovery to analyze existing data with natural language processing and machine learning tools.

One problem that IBM Watson solves for researchers is processing existing Parkinson’s research, and finding previously overlooked connections within research structures. Watson Drug Discovery’s resources include 31 million sources of data.

Dr. Lorraine Kaila, a neurologist at UHN, explains: “The platform gives us the ability to look at connections that researchers might not have found without dedicating weeks or months of time. This includes identifying compounds that we have not previously considered investigating for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease.”

“Drug researchers are challenged by the sheer volume and pace of emerging data,” says Lauren O’Donnell, Vice President at IBM Watson Health Life Sciences. “Watson for Drug Discovery empowers researchers with cognitive tools that will help to speed drug discovery.”

According to drug manufacturers’ trade group PhRMA, research for new treatments costs an average of $2.6 billion and takes 10 years. Only 12% of proposed medications make it past a Phase I clinical trial, which tests efficacy and safety.

On average 25 people are diagnosed with Parkinson’s each day, according to the OBI. In Ontario alone, an estimated 285,000 people suffer from some form of neurodegenerative disorder.

Tom Mikkelsen, president and scientific director of the OBI, said: ”This partnership signals the beginning of a new era for neuroscience where researchers can work with data at an unprecedented level of sophistication and speed. We are excited by the impact this could have on people living with Parkinson’s disease.”