Watson, Watsoff

IBM has called time on its ambitions in healthcare. The computing company is to sell the healthcare data and analytics assets of its Watson Health business to the private equity shop Francisco Partners for a reported $1bn, freeing itself from a once-promising initiative that subsequently became something of a nightmare. Over the years, IBM signed many agreements with pharma and medtech companies as well as research groups with the aim of using its artificial intelligence software to aid treatment selection and even diagnosis of conditions including cancer. IBM also acquired several companies, spending several billion dollars in total, to integrate their tech with its own. By 2017 signs were emerging that IBM had over-promised and under-delivered, but it was a year later that catastrophe really struck, with reports that Watson could in some cases recommend potentially harmful treatments. Selling the core of Watson Health will allow IBM to sharpen its focus on cloud computing and its broader AI business, the company said. Meanwhile, Francisco Partners finds itself in possession of vast amounts of valuable health data. Francisco has not set out its plans, though it has a useful exemplar of what not to do. 

IBM Watson timeline: selected highlights and lowlights
Date Event
Feb 16, 2011 Watson beats two human contestants on Jeopardy! quiz show
Feb 17, 2011 IBM takes the first step into healthcare with a collaboration with Nuance Communications, to use Watson’s analytics to aid diagnosis and treatment of patients
Feb 8, 2013 Watson’s first commercial product, a system to help doctors and researchers identify treatment options for patients with lung cancer, launches; pricing is undisclosed
Oct 18, 2013 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center launches a prototype Watson-powered system to mine data from the cancer centre’s patient and research databases and suggest treatments
Apr 13, 2015 Medtronic and IBM collaborate to use Watson to improve artificial pancreas algorithms
Dec 10, 2015 IBM Watson collaborates with Novo Nordisk to improve diabetes care via insights from Novo's treatments and devices
Aug 6, 2015 IBM buys Merge Healthcare for $1bn; plans to integrate Merge's imaging software with Watson
Feb 18, 2016 IBM buys Truven Health Analytics for $2.6bn; plans to integrate Truven's cloud-based healthcare data & analytics with Watson
Feb 2017 MD Anderson puts the Watson partnership on hold; report from the University of Texas says the project cost more than $62m
Jul 2018 Reports emerge that Watson’s algorithm led to several cases of wrong and even unsafe treatment recommendations
Jan 21, 2022 IBM sells Watson Health’s healthcare data and analytics assets to Francisco Partners, reportedly for more than $1bn
Source: company announcements & news reports.

Share This Article