Who needs Watson Health? 10 startups using AI (for real) in medical diagnostics, clinical decision making, and more

Our Readers over the years (since 2012!) have been tracking the rise–and fall–of IBM Watson Health. Now sold to Francisco Health [TTA 22 Jan], multiple companies have taken up chunks of their all-too-unwieldy mission, from oncology analytics and diagnostics to clinical decision making, and managing (and, in one case, reversing) chronic conditions. MM+M (Medical Marketing and Media) profiled ten companies–5 in diagnosis and 5 in treatment–in two articles. The first five are closer to the original Watson than the second group.

  1. Heartflow–diagnosis of coronary artery disease
  2. PathAI–machine learning for pathology in bladder and skin cancer detection
  3. Paige.AI–AI and pathology in prostate cancer detection
  4. Exo–medical imaging
  5. Proscia–dermatology diagnosis for melanoma
  6. Atropos Health–converting EHR information for clinical decision making and follow up
  7. Virta Health–prescribing food plans to people to reverse Type 2 diabetes, management via AI to doctors
  8. Sword Health–virtual care for patients with musculoskeletal (MSK) pain, managed by pairing them with digital therapy, monitoring by motion sensors
  9. Omada Health–personal interventions in chronic conditions
  10. Twin Health–sensor based monitoring and machine learning to reverse chronic diseases

Part 1 and Part 2

Sold! IBM Watson Health to Francisco Partners

Another non-surprise, since we knew early in January [TTA 7 Jan] that Watson Health was on the exit side of the IBM ledger. Francisco Partners, a private equity company, is picking up the healthcare and data analytics assets of Watson Health. These include, according to the joint release, “extensive and diverse data sets and products, including Health Insights, MarketScan, Clinical Development, Social Program Management, Micromedex, and imaging software offerings.”

The company will be standalone and the current executive team will continue to serve their clients in the life sciences, provider, imaging, payer and employer, and government health and human services sectors.

Francisco Partners has $30 billion in assets under management and over time has invested in over 400 companies. Their current healthcare companies include GoodRx, ZocDoc, and  TrellisRx. 

Financial terms were not disclosed, but IBM was seeking bids in the $1 billion range. It’s also known that IBM spent well in excess of $4 billion to build the company, was earning about $1 billion in revenue sans profit, so it can be charitably called a fire sale to get it off the IBM books. In any case, barring regulatory glitches, the sale is expected to close in second quarter 2022. Also HealthcareITNews, Becker’s HealthIT, HISTalk

Comings and goings: Cuts hit Athenahealth, IBM Watson’s Drug Discovery unit; Bain may sell Waystar RCM

Athenahealth has announced they are trimming 4 percent of their total workforce. With a large 900-person campus in Belfast, Maine that once belonged to MBNA credit cards, and a workforce of about 5,000 headquartered in Watertown, Massachusetts, there is considerable local concern in an area of Maine that offers few well-paying jobs. Reportedly dozens of jobs there will be lost. This caps a tumultuous period with the company. Athenahealth was acquired last November by Veritas Capital and Evergreen Coast Capital, then merged with a GE Healthcare spinoff they owned, Virence Health, in value-based care, under the Athenahealth name. Bangor Daily News

IBM Watson’s Drug Discovery product, which was targeted to pharmaceutical companies, is being cut back to work with only current partners and with clinical trials due to poor sales. According to The Register, a tart-tongued UK tech website which actually reached an IBM spokesperson, IBM’s Ed Barbini stated that “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.” Also Seeking Alpha. IBM Watson and Watson Health, like Athenahealth, are moving through a rocky period of closing initiatives (Watson Workplace), layoffs, executive departures (head Deborah DeSanzo last November), bad publicity, and clients like MD Anderson who don’t part quietly. [TTA 8 Nov 18].

Another merged health infotech company may have a new owner soon. Waystar, which was formed by the acquisition of ZirMed and Navicure in 2017 and manages revenue cycles for 450,000 practices, is rumored to be up for sale by owner Bain Capital. Interested parties include Visa and OracleBloomberg