IBM, Pfizer form research pact to tackle Parkinson's Disease

The end goal of the research project is to advance the way neurological diseases are diagnosed and treated while also speeding up clinical trials to bring new drugs to market.

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IBM Research Data Scientist Eric Clark explores wearable technologies that could help monitor and analyze biological data from study subjects on Thursday, April 7, 2016 at IBM's T. J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown, NY.

IBM and Pfizer are teaming up in an effort to give Parkinson's Disease research an analytical edge.

The tech titan and the pharmaceutical giant plan to utilize non-invasive wearables to collect and monitor real-time patient data. The end goal of the research project is to advance the way neurological diseases are diagnosed and treated while also speeding up clinical trials to bring new drugs to market.

The study, which is expected to last up to three years, will glean patient data from a system of sensors, wearables and mobile devices that will monitor patients around the clock, not just episodically.

The sensors will measure a range of factors, such as how a patient moves, their body temperature, cognition, sleep cycles and daily activities such as grooming, dressing and eating -- data which IBM says will help create a more holistic view of how patients are doing on a daily basis.

As the data is gathered, it will be sent through IBM's machine learning algorithms to see what kind of symptoms correspond to accepted clinical end points. According to IBM and Pfizer, these insights could help doctors understand and quantify the magnitude of symptoms the patient is having and in turn use that information to tailor the treatment and drug dosage to each individual.

"With the proliferation of digital health information, one area that remains elusive is the collection of real-time physiological data to support disease management," said Arvind Krishna, SVP and director of IBM Research. "We are testing ways to create a system that passively collects data with little to no burden on the patient, and to provide doctors and researchers with objective, real-time insights that we believe could fundamentally change the way patients are monitored and treated."

Medical research is one of the greatest beneficiaries of today's data-driven, digital technology boom. IBM in particular has remained focused on the healthcare sector, using its IoT chops and Watson Health division to broaden its medical footprint.

Most recently, IBM acquired Truven Health Analytics in a deal valued at $2.6 billion. IBM's plan is to integrate Truven's data into its Watson Health Cloud to deliver what Big Blue calls "insights as a service." As noted in a ZDNet profile of Watson Health, IBM is aiming to acquire enough data and technology to track health "from single-individual level to population level."