IBM partners with 14 cancer institutes to use Watson to help identify care options

Bloomberg News reports that International Business Machines Corp. announced partnerships with 14 cancer institutes to use its “Watson data-analytics technology” to “identify cancer-causing mutations and help tailor treatments.” It will also be working with Epic Systems Corp. and the Mayo Clinic “to analyze patients’ electronic health-care records” for selection for clinical trials.

IBM is promoting Watson as a means of bringing together and analyzing disparate sources of electronic health records, as well as data from clinical trials and other relevant research. The cancer centers are using Watson “at no cost.”

Reuters reports that Watson has shown an ability to very quickly link DNA information from cancers to medications.

Steve Harvey, vice president of IBM Watson Health, said that the system should be working by the end of the year.

Reuters also notes that for many cancers, the data may be of little use as there may be no medication available targeting the driving mutation, or there may be many mutations in a cancer, making it much more difficult to identify any driving mutation.

US News & World Report reports that Watson will speed up some analysis from “weeks” to “minutes.”

It also lists the partners:

  • Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago;
  • BC Cancer Agency; City of Hope;
  • Cleveland Clinic;
  • Duke Cancer Institute;
  • Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center in Omaha, Nebraska;
  • McDonnell Genome Institute at Washington University in St. Louis;
  • New York Genome Center;
  • Sanford Health;
  • University of Kansas Cancer Center;
  • University of North Carolina Lineberger Cancer Center;
  • University of Southern California Center for Applied Molecular Medicine;
  • University of Washington Medical Center; and
  • Yale Cancer Center.

Forbes describes the partnerships as “an effort that could make DNA sequencing accessible to many more cancer patients.”

Dr. Lukas Wartman, assistant director of cancer genomics at Washington University in St. Louis, one of the partners, said, “I’m not aware of another platform that allows as much power right now nor have I seen one in development.”

Norman Sharpless, director of the Lineberger Cancer Center at the University of North Carolina, another partner, “wants to see more proof” that Watson will help in identifying appropriate treatments.

Modern Healthcare reports that Watson is “expected to help clinicians decide whether personalized treatments” might be more useful than “standard chemotherapy, surgery or radiation.”

Sean Hogan, IBM general manager and VP for healthcare, also said that IBM’s “sophisticated data security capabilities,” are one reason why these cancer centers have been willing to work with the company, explaining that “a lot of the information used by Watson can reside locally with clients, while IBM takes the necessary steps to protect information in the cloud.”

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