At U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s Cancer Moonshot Summit held today, IBM Watson Health and the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs announced a collaboration that will help VA doctors identify the best genome-based treatment for 10,000 war veterans with cancer over the next two years.
The public-private initiative, involving IBM’s Watson for Genomics technology, will help doctors at the USDVA arrive at precision medication for 30 times more patients than they are currently able to handle in a given time period.
According to U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs Undersecretary for Health Dr. David J. Shulkin:
“Genetic alterations are responsible for most cancers, but it remains challenging for most clinicians to deliver on the promise of precision medicine due to the sheer volume of data surrounding each decision to be made. By applying Watson to this problem, we see an opportunity to scale access to precision medicine for America’s Veterans, a group most deserving of the best care in the world.”
Watson will be “fed” with de-identified genetic alterations after cancer patients’ DNA has been sequenced by pathologists and scientists. Watson will then process this data and recommend the various treatment options based on the specific cancer-causing mutation it has been able to identify, as well as the entire body of existing medical literature available for each scenario. This latter part has so far been the most time-consuming portion of the analysis, and Watson will help speed that up by up to 30 times.
The USDVA treats 3.5% of the country’s cancer cases, and this is currently the largest single group of cancer patients in the nation. In fact, IBM says that war veterans have the highest rates of diagnosis as well as mortality of all groups.
According to John Kelly, SVP IBM Research and Cognitive Solutions:
“The power of cognitive computing is its ability to ingest, understand and find patterns in massive volumes of disparate data – which is one of the fundamental barriers to precision medicine today. In addition to helping advance clinical care, data and insights from Watson will also be shared with the research community, creating tremendous potential benefits for patients, researchers and society. Watson Health is IBM’s own moonshot, and we share the (U.S.) Vice President’s vision and goals to advance the fight against cancer through data and collaboration.”
Last week, IBM announced the formation of a Watson Health medical imaging collaborative, a global project involving imaging technology companies (including IBM-acquired Merge Healthcare Inc.), ambulatory radiology providers, academic medical centers and health systems from around the world.
From IBM’s press release on June 22:
“Foundational partners for the collaborative include Agfa HealthCare, Anne Arundel Medical Center, Baptist Health South Florida, Eastern Virginia Medical School, ifa systems AG, inoveon, Radiology Associates of South Florida, Sentara Healthcare, Sheridan Healthcare, Topcon, University of California San Diego, University of Miami Medical Center, University of Vermont Health Network and vRad as well as Merge Healthcare, an IBM company.”
The collaborative intends to train Watson on several relevant needs in medical imaging technology, in order to enable a holistic analysis of such images for the purpose of identifying and extracting insights that will then be used to accurately zero in on the best possible treatment options for a variety of diseases, disorders and conditions.
Watson’s specialty area is to take large amounts of unstructured and structured data from various, disparate sources, and help researchers and medical professionals make sense of that data from a diagnostics and therapeutic perspective. Watson has been “training” for the past two years in collaboration with several leading cancer institutes around the world, including the Bumrungrad Hospital in Thailand and Manipal Hospitals Group in India. The objective has been to train Watson on analysing various types of cancer and making existing research data available for analysis.
In an interview I recently did with IBM’s General Manager for Watson Health Deborah DiSanzo, she spoke about Watson’s impact on the healthcare segment, and how it is changing the way clinicians, hospitalists and other medical professionals are able to better analyze patient data and arrive at treatment options must faster than by manual methods employed so far. You can see the interview transcript here on Seeking Alpha, the world’s premier site for stock analysis.