Accelerating Drug Discovery Research for Parkinson’s Disease

November 17, 2016

By: Nathalie Le Prohon, Vice President of IBM's Healthcare Industry in Canada

Brain disorders like Parkinson's disease are one of the biggest ongoing challenges facing healthcare today, and will continue to take its toll if we do not act as quickly as possible. One in three individuals will suffer from a brain disorder[1] and about 25 people are diagnosed with Parkinson's each day.[2] According to the Ontario Brain Institute (OBI), over 28,000 people in Ontario are currently living with the disease.

Neurodegenerative disorders, such as Parkinson's, pose severe complications within our society – especially as society increasingly ages. Now more than ever, it is imperative that healthcare professionals are equipped to quickly uncover patterns and connections that not only help bring effective drugs to market faster, but also reach patients sooner.

Consider this: currently, bringing a drug to market takes nearly 10 years and on average $2.6 billion, worldwide.[3]

Research being undertaken at the OBI and the Movement Disorder's Clinic (MDC) at the University Health Network, involving IBM's cloud-based Watson for Drug Discovery platform, is an important milestone to help solve this issue and accelerate breakthroughs in brain research.

Using this platform, the collaboration will seek to transform how doctors identify which drugs can be repurposed in the fight against Parkinson's disease. Researchers will explore drugs already available in Canada, including drugs used to treat high blood pressure, infections and cancer.

Scientific discovery requires understanding the relationships between elements in disease pathways and potential drug targets – connecting the dots, so to speak. However, researchers are engulfed and challenged by today's massive amounts of data distributed across a variety of sources.

With this new platform, Watson will work with researchers at OBI and MDC to locate the needle in a haystack and dramatically speed up their work far more rapidly than traditional methods. Further, predictive analytics capabilities within the tool will allow them to generate evidence-based hypotheses, drawing from nearly 31 million sources of relevant literature.

Collaboration activity between our partners have already begun since September, and the possible outcomes of this partnership are significant. Together, we expect to drive solutions that will improve healthcare in Ontario and Canada, and potentially around the world.

[1] Brain Canada Foundation, 2016.

[2] Neurological Health Charities Canada (NHCC), Health Canada, Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR). MAPPING CONNECTIONS: An Understanding of Neurological Conditions in Canada. Sept. 2014. pg.66.

[3] PhRMA, Biopharmaceutical Research and Development: The Process Behind New Medicines, August 2015.

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