Canadian neuroscience leaders tap IBM Watson to pinpoint new drugs for Parkinson’s disease

TORONTO, ON – The Ontario Brain Institute (OBI) and the Movement Disorders Clinic (MDC) at Toronto’s University Health Network (UHN) have embarked on Canada’s first ever Parkinson’s disease research project using the recently launched IBM Watson for Drug Discovery.

Watson is the first commercially available cognitive computing capability representing a new era in computing. The system, delivered through the cloud, analyzes high volumes of data, understands complex questions posed in natural language, and proposes evidence-based answers. Watson continuously learns, gaining in value and knowledge over time, from previous interactions.

MDC researchers, along with members of the Informatics and Analytics team at OBI, will use Watson to accelerate the drug discovery process and determine which drugs could potentially be re-purposed in the fight against Parkinson’s disease.

Drawing from its body of nearly 31 million sources of relevant literature, IBM’s cloud-based cognitive enterprise solution analyzes scientific knowledge and data using machine learning and natural language processing.

According to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, an estimated seven to 10 million people globally are living with Parkinson’s disease, and currently it is the second most common neurodegenerative disorder in Canada, trailing only Alzheimer’s disease.

Currently, bringing a drug to market takes nearly 10 years and approximately $2.6 billion. Beyond that, 88 percent of new drugs fail in Phase 1 because of a lack of efficacy and safety.

“Drug researchers are challenged by the sheer volume and pace of emerging data,” said Lauren O’Donnell, vice president, IBM Watson Health Life Sciences. “Watson for Drug Discovery empowers researchers with cognitive tools that will help to speed drug discovery, and increase the likelihood of bringing effective therapies to patients more rapidly.”

“This partnership signals the beginning of a new era for neuroscience where researchers can work with data at an unprecedented level of sophistication and speed,” said Tom Mikkelsen, president and scientific director of the Ontario Brain Institute. “We are excited by the impact this could have on people living with Parkinson’s disease.”

Dr. Lorraine Kalia, a movement disorders neurologist and neuroscientist at the Krembil Neuroscience Centre at UHN, agrees that cognitive technology like IBM Watson has the potential to make discoveries that can directly impact the health of Canadians. “The platform gives us the ability to look at connections that researchers might not have found without dedicating weeks or months of time,” said Dr. Kalia. “This includes identifying compounds that we have not previously considered investigating for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease.”

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