Celgene and IBM Watson look to improve patient safety

Celgene is the latest pharma company to recruit IBM’s artificial intelligence powerhouse Watson, this time to help monitor drug safety.

The project’s goal is to create a cognitive computing platform dubbed ‘IBM Watson for Patient Safety’ to enhance pharmacovigilance methods.

The platform will help deliver drug safety decisions to life science companies through an improved method of collecting, assessing and monitoring adverse drug reactions from various big data sources, including anonymised electronic medical records and medical claims databases.

Over time, the platform’s cognitive abilities will be able to help identify drug safety signals, improving the pharmaceutical companies’ understanding of drug safety profiles and ultimately leading to safer treatments for patients.

“With this collaboration, we intend to create a paradigm shift in identifying patient safety data that we hope can be applied across the entire product lifecycle – from early development through to approved medicines,” said John Freeman, corporate vice president of Global Drug Safety and Risk Management for Celgene. “The new offering we are co-developing will bring the cognitive computing power of Watson and its growing view of clinical, research and social health data to bear on this critical healthcare challenge.”

Aside from drawing on IBM Watson’s elite cognitive computing capabilities, Celgene will draw on its drug safety expertise.

In 1998, the company reintroduced thalidomide to the market under the brand name Thalomid for the treatment of leprosy.  Thalidomide became one of the most notorious drugs of all time when it was marketed in the 1960s as a treatment for morning sickness in pregnant women, but caused terrible birth defects in the unborn children. Celgene were able to re-purpose the drug, but only by demonstrating to regulators it had put in place strict measures to ensure no pregnant women took the drug.

Celgene has since developed thalidomide analogues for numerous other conditions, including lenalidomide and pomalidomide for multiple myeloma, which have become hugely successful treatments.

“Celgene established one of the first risk management systems, and its commitment to pharmacovigilance continues with this collaboration,” said Lauren O’Donnell, vice president of Life Sciences at IBM Watson Health.

Lauren O'Donnell

Lauren O’Donnell

“Together we look forward to creating a cognitive solution that can be applied across the industry to help benefit patients everywhere, leveraging our cloud platform.”

Watson for Patient Safety will be developed in phases with the first module to be created within the next year.

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