IBM Watson Health, FDA partner to improve healthcare data exchange

IBM Watson Health announced Wednesday a research initiative with the FDA aimed at leveraging blockchain technology to "define a secure, efficient and scalable exchange of health data." The initial focus of the two-year agreement will be on oncology-related data, with the parties exploring the exchange of owner mediated data from several sources, including electronic medical records, clinical trials and health data from mobile devices and wearables.

Shahram Ebadollahi, IBM Watson Health chief science officer, remarked that "the healthcare industry is undergoing significant changes due to the vast amounts of disparate data being generated." Ebadollahi added "blockchain technology provides a highly secure, decentralised framework for data sharing that will accelerate innovation throughout the industry."

According to IBM, blockchain technology keeps an "audit trail of all transactions on an unalterable distributed ledger," establishing "accountability and transparency in the data exchange process." Under the agreement, of which financial terms were not disclosed, the parties "will explore how a blockchain framework can potentially provide benefits to public health by supporting important use cases for information exchange across a wide variety of data types," IBM said. 

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Additionally, the collaboration will address new methods to "leverage the large volumes of diverse data in…biomedical and healthcare industries." IBM Watson Health and the FDA plan to share initial research findings this year. In the long term, Ebadollahi said that "as growing numbers of potential applications become evident, IBM hopes to refine technological approaches toward building a scalable and decentralised infrastructure for more widespread use."

Earlier this week, IBM Watson Health and Illumina announced a partnership that will integrate Watson for Genomics into the latter's BaseSpace Sequence Hub and tumour sequencing process to expand access to genomic data.

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