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IBM to base health data business in Boston area

Big Blue is deploying its Watson computer system to crunch big health care data.

Technology giant IBM Corp. said it will base its new Watson Health business in the Boston area, a worldwide center for health care, drug research, and biotechnology, though exactly where it will be located and how many people it will hire have yet to be determined.

Watson Health, named after the IBM artificial intelligence platform that bested human contestants in the television quiz show “Jeopardy,” will seek to store and analyze massive volumes of information on everything from patients’ health to clinical trials, and provide a range of services based on that data to researchers, physicians, and health insurers.

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“The global market for health is $7 trillion,” Watson Health vice president Stephen Gold said in an interview. “We see this as an opportunity to gain insight into this data that can be useful in helping provide a better health experience and quality of care for individuals.”

IBM is prepared to devote substantial resources to the venture, fielding about 2,000 consultants worldwide that will include some already at the company and new hires. Gold said the company could hire hundreds in the Boston area from within its existing ranks and externally.

“We have a longtime history in the Boston market, and there’s a tremendous talent pool,” he said, noting that IBM has begun recruiting data analytics professionals. “We have a relationship with a number of institutions there. For health care, it’s a major metropolis.”

In addition to Boston, the company will be adding staff to its operations in New York and elsewhere to work on Watson Health, said Gold. The new business will be led by Michael D. Rhodin, a senior vice president for IBM Watson who is based in New York.

To launch an Internet-based computing platform it will call Watson Health Cloud, the company has forged partnerships with several blue-chip companies, including Apple Inc. in consumer electronics, Johnson & Johnson in health care and biopharmaceuticals, and Medtronic Inc. in medical devices to explore ways of better using health data. IBM has also acquired a pair of data analytic companies, Explorys of Cleveland and Phytel of Dallas, to help in the effort.

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“We’re moving forward, we’re building infrastructure, we’re putting people in place,” Gold said.


Robert Weisman can be reached at robert.weisman@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeRobW.