IBM and the Cleveland Clinic have recently announced a 10-year partnership aimed at utilizing quantum computing, cloud, and artificial intelligence to accelerate drug development, pathogen research, and population health. The newly established “Discovery Accelerator” joint center seeks to streamline data collection and analysis to facilitate research into viruses, genomics, and other areas to promote the development of new therapies for various diseases.
The partnership between IBM and the Cleveland Clinic will also investigate proactive approaches to public health crises to anticipate the next viral emergency and prevent another COVID-19 catastrophe. The Cleveland Clinic has invested $500 million in its Global Center for Pathogen Research & Human Health, which will now be managed by IBM for cloud-based computing. IBM will also install one of its quantum computers at the center, the first outside of an IBM facility in the U.S., making the Cleveland Clinic the first private sector institution to operate an IBM quantum computer called the Quantum System One.
Quantum computers are fundamentally different from standard computers in the way they process information. They can test multiple solutions to a single problem simultaneously, resulting in exponentially quicker processing speeds and faster results using artificial intelligence. This technology can significantly expedite the lengthy processes involved in medical research and the development of new pharmaceuticals.
IBM and the Cleveland Clinic will also focus on training a workforce in data science and quantum computing, with research priorities of analyzing viral genomes and vaccine development. The joint center aims to develop tools to predict outcomes and the best treatments for COVID-19 patients, along with calculating the risk of long-term complications from the disease.
The partnership between IBM and the Cleveland Clinic is a significant move in the medical industry, with big data flooding the sector as major hospitals partner with tech giants to utilize millions of health data points for research and development. This partnership takes a step beyond similar arrangements by adding quantum computing, a faster and more futuristic way of processing data, into the mix.
IBM also plans to install the first of its more powerful next-generation quantum systems at the Cleveland Clinic campus in the following years, though these computers are still in development. The joint venture between IBM and the Cleveland Clinic marks the first time quantum computing has been integrated into the medical industry on this scale.
Other tech giants such as Microsoft, Google, and Amazon have also made significant partnerships with health companies in recent years, stepping into the lucrative medical research and development space. In 2019, Walgreens, Providence, and Humana reached data-storage agreements with Microsoft, Cerner named Amazon Web Services its preferred cloud host, and Mayo Clinic signed a 10-year deal with Google. However, none of these deals involved quantum computing.
Despite the promising potential of quantum computing, many clinicians have expressed concerns about applying advanced computing techniques like AI in healthcare, particularly in diagnostics. Research on the efficacy of such algorithms in the exam room is mixed, and critics worry that algorithms trained on incomplete or inequitable datasets could exacerbate existing health disparities in the US, or compromise the quality of care.
Trust in AI has also been shaken by the fall of IBM’s Watson Health, the company’s effort to revolutionize the medical industry using AI. Watson Health was marketed as a breakthrough in cancer treatment and drug discovery, but the business faltered in recent years as it came to light that IBM had very little data to back up its glowing reviews.