IBM Watson Health and IDx, LLC today announced a five-year strategic alliance to advance eye health through cognitive computing applications. The alliance aims to help primary care providers, hospitals, health systems, and integrated delivery networks deliver value-based care to patients with diabetic retinopathy and other serious eye conditions such as glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration. The alliance expands IBM Watson Health’s focus on eye health.
The alliance leverages more than a decade of IDx’s ophthalmic image analysis work and IBM’s cognitive healthcare offerings and global reach. As part of the alliance, IBM Watson Health has the option to distribute IDx offerings. Initially, IBM Watson Health intends to distribute IDx-DR — an automated solution for diabetic retinopathy screening currently available in the 31 countries that comprise the European Economic Area. IBM Watson Health may expand its distribution of IDx-DR to Australia, Canada, and the United States upon regulatory approvals of the product.
There are 415 million adults with diabetes across the world today, with the number expected to grow by 50% to over 600 million by 2040. Each of these individuals is at high risk of developing diabetic retinopathy, which is one of the leading causes of preventable blindness in working age adults. Most people that develop diabetic retinopathy have no symptoms until irreversible vision loss had occurred, making early disease detection critical to prevent blindness.
“Over the past decades, productivity in healthcare has not kept pace with other sectors. Patients and providers worldwide are paying the price. Our mission at IDx has always been to transform the quality, accessibility, and affordability of global healthcare through the automation of medical screening to support physicians’ diagnoses. We are incredibly pleased to partner with IBM Watson Health, which shares this vision, and believe they will help us scale the IDx mission to its fullest potential,” said Dr. Michael Abramoff, Founder and President of IDx.
“IDx-DR complements Watson’s existing focus in eye health and brings to Watson a novel, secure server-based screening technology that prioritizes patient safety — pairing expert clinician knowledge with transparent, human brain-inspired algorithms,” said Anne Le Grand, vice president of Imaging for Watson Health.
It is further the intent of IBM and IDx to work together to jointly develop and deploy new eye-related offerings leveraging each company’s expertise and assets.
This announcement comes shortly after IBM announced that IDx joined the global IBM Watson medical imaging collaborative, which includes 24 members worldwide. The collaborative has a working group on eye health which aims to accelerate Watson’s understanding of a range of high-impact diseases — such as glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration, and cardiovascular disease — using various imaging modalities including fundus and optical coherence tomography (OCT).
IDx-DR version 2.0 has CE marking as a Class IIa Medical Device for sale in the European Union. IDx products have not yet been cleared by the FDA and are not currently for sale in the United States. IDx is currently conducting a U.S.-based clinical trial of IDx-DR scheduled for completion this summer.