Cleveland Clinic and IBM announce 10-year partnership to accelerate healthcare discovery


Cleveland Clinic and IBM have announced a 10-year partnership to establish a joint center, dubbed the discovery accelerator, to advance the pace of discovery in healthcare and life sciences through the use of high performance computing on the hybrid cloud, artificial intelligence (AI) and quantum computing technologies.

By combining the clinic’s expertise in health care with IBM’s technologies, the two organizations aim to build a robust research and clinical infrastructure to empower big data medical research, discoveries for patient care and novel approaches to public health threats like the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a news release.

Through the collaboration, IBM plans to install its first private-sector on-premises IBM Quantum System One in the United States at the Cleveland Clinic. The rest of IBM’s such systems in the United States are in its own facilities. Location and cost of the facility that would house this technology in Cleveland haven’t been finalized as the two are working out the technical requirements. Additionally, IBM plans to install the first of its next-generation 1,000+ qubit quantum systems at a client facility, also in Cleveland, in the coming years, according to the release.

Along with its on-site quantum system, the clinic will have access via the cloud to IBM’s fleet of currently more than 20 quantum systems.

“Through this innovative collaboration, we have a unique opportunity to bring the future to life,” said Dr. Tom Mihaljevic, Cleveland Clinic president and CEO, in a provided statement. “These new computing technologies can help revolutionize discovery in the life sciences. The discovery accelerator will enable our renowned teams to build a forward-looking digital infrastructure and help transform medicine, while training the workforce of the future and potentially growing our economy.”

Designed to actively engage with universities, government, industry, startups and other organizations, the quantum program will leverage the clinic’s global enterprise “to serve as the foundation of a new quantum ecosystem for life sciences, focused on advancing quantum skills and the mission of the center,” according to the release.

Quantum computing has the potential to have an immense impact on key healthcare challenges, by enhancing the ability to derive deep insight from complex data at the heart of these challenges, the release stated.

The collaboration between IBM and the Clinic is the kind of innovative investment the state had hoped would be advanced by the Cleveland Innovation District announced earlier this year, said Ohio Lt. Gov. Jon Husted, director of InnovateOhio, in the release. The district, which aims to create 20,000 jobs and billions of dollars of economic impact in Cleveland over a decade, is a $565 million research and education partnership among Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals, MetroHealth, Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland State University

“Quantum will make the impossible possible,” Husted said in a provided statement. “A partnership between these two great institutions will put Cleveland, and Ohio, on the map for advanced medical and scientific research, providing a unique opportunity to improve treatment options for patients and solve some of our greatest health care challenges.”

IBM and the clinic are not discussing financial details of this partnership, though Dr. Lara Jehi, chief research information officer for the clinic, did note that the investment is separate from the clinic’s $300 million commitment for the Innovation District.

Through the discovery accelerator, researchers will use advanced computational technology to generate and analyze data that can help enhance research in the clinic’s Global Center for Pathogen Research and Human Health, which will anchor the Innovation District. As the technology foundation for the pathogen center, the discovery accelerator will support research in areas including genomics, single cell transcriptomics, population health, clinical applications, and chemical and drug discovery, according to the release.

Jehi identified four reasons that the discovery accelerator and partnership with IBM made sense for the health system. The two have aligned cultures with a shared commitment to research and are each leaders in their fields of healthcare and technology, she said. Plus, IBM brings to the table technology that helps the clinic with immediate research needs and has the potential to accelerate work toward the future. And finally, both organizations are committed to education. The 10-year collaboration includes plans to develop education and workforce opportunities — from high school to professional levels — related to quantum computing to build skill sets for people to innovate and operate this technology moving forward.

Jeff Welser, chief operating officer for IBM Research, said he believes that what the company is doing with technology “will completely change the way that we discover, particularly new chemicals, new molecules, new materials, all these areas where right now, much of the work tends to be trial and error.”

“We need a partner who has all that medical knowledge, all that side of really understanding what you’re going to go look for with it, and (the clinic was) just a great fit for that particular combination,” Welser said.

Jehi notes that the average time between a scientist making a discovery in the lab and that actually reaching a patient is 17 years. She is hopeful that, with a new way of thinking through research and the support of new technology from IBM, discoveries can happen faster as researchers can work with data more efficiently.

Leveraging the combined innovations that can help researchers overcome such bottlenecks — AI, quantum computing and hybrid cloud technologies — will “supercharge” new generations of information technology and fuel important scientific advances, according to the release, which notes IBM will provide access to a variety of research and commercial technologies, education and tools to assist Cleveland Clinic in accelerating discovery in healthcare and life science.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has spawned one of the greatest races in the history of scientific discovery – one that demands unprecedented agility and speed,” saud Arvind Krishna, chairman and CEO of IBM, in a statement. “At the same time, science is experiencing a change of its own – with high performance computing, hybrid cloud, data, AI, and quantum computing, being used in new ways to break through long-standing bottlenecks in scientific discovery.”


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