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IBM's 1 billion dollar acquisition will allow Watson supercomputer to 'see'

IBM has announced plans to acquire the medical imaging group Merge Healthcare for $1 billion in order to boost the capacity of its Watson supercomputer.

The new group will be integrated into IBM's Watson Health platform, which analyses massive amounts of personal health data to help medical professionals improve treatment.

Watson is the first commercially available cognitive computing platform. The system, delivered through the cloud, analyses high volumes of data, understands complex questions posed in natural language, and proposes evidence-based answers.

The planned acquisition of Merge Healthcare strengthens IBM’s strategy to add rich image analytics with deep learning to the Watson Health platform, in effect, advancing Watson beyond natural language and giving it the ability to 'see’, the company said in a statement. 

In April 2015, the company launched IBM Watson Health and the Watson Health Cloud platform. The platform was created to help improve the ability of doctors, researchers and insurers to innovate by surfacing new insights from the massive amount of personal health data being created daily.   

Medical images are the largest and fastest-growing data source in the healthcare industry and perhaps the world – IBM researchers estimate that they account for at least 90 per cent of all medical data today.

However, certain challenges can inhibit the efficient use of this data. For example, the sheer volume of medical images can be overwhelming even for the most advanced medical specialists – radiologists in an emergency room can be presented with thousands of images per day, according to the IBM statement. In addition, tools to help clinicians extract insights from medical images are limited, requiring most data to be analysed manually.

The Watson Health Platform will be used to analyse and cross-reference medical images against a deep trove of lab results, electronic health records, genomic tests, clinical studies and other health data — which IBM estimates represent 315 billion data points and 90 million unique records.

Medical professionals will be able to compare new medical images with a patient’s image history as well as populations of similar patients to detect changes and anomalies. Insights generated by Watson could then help healthcare providers in fields including radiology, cardiology, orthopaedics and ophthalmology to pursue more personalised approaches to diagnosis, treatment and monitoring of patients.

‘As Watson evolves, we are tackling more complex and meaningful problems by constantly evaluating bigger and more challenging data sets,’ explained IBM vice president John Kelly. ‘Medical images are some of the most complicated data sets imaginable, and there is perhaps no more important area in which researchers can apply machine learning and cognitive computing.’

Under terms of the transaction, Merge shareholders would receive $7.13 per share in cash, for a total transaction value of $1 billion.  The closing of the transaction is subject to regulatory review, Merge shareholder approval, and other customary closing conditions, and is anticipated to occur later this year. 

Further information

Merge Healthcare

IBM Watson Healthcare 


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