Mar 30, 2021 - Technology

IBM, Cleveland Clinic partner on next-gen computing for health R&D

Animated gif of a syringe with glowing cycling binary code
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

IBM and the Cleveland Clinic are launching a 10-year partnership to apply advances in AI, high performance computing in the cloud and quantum computing to research on viral pathogens and drug development.

Why it matters: The effort aims to ease bottlenecks in collecting, storing and analyzing data and speed research on viruses and cancers caused by them.

  • The organizations hope that will spur the development of clinical tools and new treatments for a range of diseases.

"In a data-hungry field like health care, data is becoming the biggest asset to deliver better care for our patients. It is only a matter of time before the field realizes how critical quantum [computing] is to this," says Lara Jehi, a physician and chief research information officer at the Cleveland Clinic.

What's happening: IBM will direct high performance cloud-based computing resources to the Cleveland Clinic's new Global Center for Pathogen Research & Human Health.

  • IBM also plans to install one of its current quantum computers on-site at the center later this year — the first in the U.S. outside of an IBM facility — to be followed eventually by a more powerful version that is still in development by the company.
  • The Cleveland Clinic and IBM also say they'll focus on educating and training a workforce skilled in data science and quantum computing, which is critical to the development of the technology.

What they're saying: Access to AI and high performance computing will allow clinicians to more quickly understand which therapies work better against specific cancers and to further develop vaccine immunotherapies, Jehi says.

  • The top research priorities are using access to IBM's computing resources for analyzing viral genomes and vaccine development.
  • They also plan to speed the development of tools that can help predict outcomes and treatment courses for people with COVID-19, as well as their risk of developing long-term complications of COVID, she adds.

The big picture: The partnership is also a testbed for efforts to accelerate the pace of scientific discovery using automation, AI, quantum computing and other technologies.

  • Dario Gil, who directs IBM Research, envisions compressing the time and cost of discovery by a factor of 10 using natural language processing to mine scientific literature, simulations to conduct virtual experiments, generative AI models to come up with hypotheses, and robotics to further automate laboratories.
  • "I think we are going to pioneer a new approach to how to do science with deep and profound consequences anywhere you do R&D and scientific discovery," he says.

What to watch: Whether and how new tools, particularly for making clinical care decisions, address sources of bias in data and are fairly used in health care.

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