Big Data

IBM Watson's latest gig: Improving cancer treatment with genomic sequencing

A new partnership between IBM Watson Health and Quest Diagnostics will combine Watson's cognitive computing with genetic tumor sequencing for more precise, individualized cancer care.

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Image: iStockphoto/Svisio

Cancer treatments are about to get an injection of cognitive computing. On Tuesday, IBM Watson Health and Quest Diagnostics launched IBM Watson for Genomics—a service that combines Watson's AI capabilities with genomic tumor sequencing to determine the best course of treatment for individual patients.

This is the first time Watson for Genomics will be widely available to patients and physicians nationwide, according to a press release, as Quest Diagnostics serves half of US physicians and hospitals. Quest estimates that it will provide this service for thousands of oncologists who provide about 70% of cancer care in the nation.

How does it work? Tumor mutations vary for each individual, and treatment success often depends on how well a physician can match a therapy to a mutation. But, matching a mutation type with the correct treatment "requires genomic sequencing expertise as well as information from knowledge bases, which must be routinely updated to account for rapidly evolving scientific discoveries, available drug therapies and, for patients for whom no therapy is indicated, appropriate clinical trials," according to a press release—a difficult, time-consuming task for any oncologist.

SEE: How IBM Watson expanded its repertoire to become a virtual job trainer

That's where Watson can help. With the new service, a physician will first send a patient's tumor biopsy tissue to Quest, where scientists will sequence and analyze the tumor's genomic makeup to see what mutations appear. Then, the scientists feed the genetic files into Watson.

Watson compares the mutations to a wide database of clinical studies, medical literature, and work from leading oncologists, to determine the best options for therapy for that individual patient. A Quest pathologist will review Watson's results, and send a report back to the treating physician or oncologist.

IBM Watson Genomics adds about 10,000 new scientific articles and 100 new clinical trials to its repertoire every month, a press release said.

"This service combines Quest's state-of-the-art tumor analysis and national access with the cognitive computing of IBM's Watson," said Jay G. Wohlgemuth, chief medical officer and senior vice president of development and medical research at Quest Diagnostics, in a press release. "This is a powerful combination that we believe will leapfrog conventional genomic services as a better approach for identifying targeted oncology treatments."

The new service also leverages technology to provide better care across all regions of the US, said John Kelly III, senior vice president of IBM Research and Cognitive Solutions, in the press release.

"The beauty of Watson is that it can be used to dramatically scale access to knowledge and scientific insight, whether a patient is being treated in an urban academic medical center or a rural community clinic," Kelly said. "Through this collaboration with the cancer community's leading clinical and pathology experts, thousands of patients can potentially benefit from the world's growing body of knowledge about this disease."

IBM Watson Genomics joins the fast-developing field of medical technology. The global medtech market is expected to reach $529.8 billion by 2022—growing at a rate of 5.2% per year, according to the EvaluateMedTech World Preview 2016, Outlook to 2022 report, released Tuesday.

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. On Tuesday, IBM Watson Health and Quest Diagnostics launched IBM Watson for Genomics, which uses Watson's cognitive computing to examine genomic tumor sequencing to determine the best course of treatment for individual patients.
  2. Watson examines the genetic material from the sequenced tumor, and compares it to a wide database of clinical studies and medical information to find the best individual therapy course for a patient.
  3. Using Watson for this purpose will cut down on the time it takes a physician to identify the best treatment options, and offer a more precise option, experts said.

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About

Alison DeNisco is a Staff Writer for TechRepublic. She covers CXO and the convergence of tech and the workplace.

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