IBM Corp.’s Watson Health business unit will wind down its Drug Discovery service, which is used by pharmaceutical companies to apply artificial intelligence to the development of new medicines.
Medical news journal Stat first reported the news today, saying IBM was throwing in the towel because of “sluggish sales” of the product. The company said it will keep the service up and running for existing customers, but it won’t be sold to new customers.
“We are not discontinuing our Watson for Drug Discovery offering, and we remain committed to its continued success for our clients currently using the technology,” IBM told The Register in a statement. “We are focusing our resources within Watson Health to double down on the adjacent field of clinical development where we see an even greater market need for our data and AI capabilities.”
The move hints at difficulties within IBM’s health division, which saw its chief Deborah DiSanzo step down last October following a round of layoffs.
IBM had previously announced several high-profile partnerships, though not entirely in drug discovery, including with Pfizer ., Novartis International AG and Illumina . in cancer research and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. to explore drug repurposing. However, IBM sources told Stat that even with those partnerships, the initiative was still not profitable enough.
Instead of pursuing a failing product, IBM is now looking at renewing Watson’s medical focus on clinical trials.
“We are focusing our resources within Watson Health to double down on the adjacent field of clinical development where we see an even greater market need for our data and AI capabilities,” an IBM spokesman told Stat.
Analyst Holger Mueller of Constellation Research . said IBM’s decision to close Drug Discovery was sad but also a reflection of the “new” IBM that prefers to scale back offerings that don’t succeed.
“The old IBM would take a hit, and come back with fervor and solve the problem, but it looks like numerous quarters of shrinking revenue has changed its DNA,” Mueller said. “It’s unfortunate but likely an acknowledgement of the new realities for IBM. For the sake of the overall AI industry, all vendors need to invest, go deeper and fix issues and not retreat. Let’s hope this is an exception.”
IBM’s Drug Discovery service combines a number of tools, including a search engine that scientists can use to find information on specific human genes or chemical compounds. It also contains a knowledge network that describes relationships between existing drugs and diseases.
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