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Momentum Builds for IBM Watson’s Moonshot

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Death rates from cancer have dropped 25 percent over the past two decades, according to the American Cancer Society. Yet there is much more to be done. The World Health Organization reports the number of new cancer cases is expected to rise by about 70 percent over the next two decades even as there is a shortage of cancer doctors around the world. At Watson Health we’re fortunate to work with medical experts to help them apply the power of cognitive computing to advance cancer care.

Yesterday, CBS’s 60 Minutes re-aired a powerful story called “What’s on the Horizon for AI” featuring work by University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center Director Norman E. Sharpless, MD, who was recently nominated to be the next head of the National Cancer Institute. In the segment, which originally aired in October 2016, Dr. Sharpless explains that a study of 1,000 cancer patients conducted at UNC demonstrated how Watson could tap into tens of millions of pieces of data in a matter of a few seconds to identify 300 additional therapies that a team of physicians could not.

This type of early finding is encouraging, documenting how experts can deploy Watson for Genomics to advance their important work. Examinations like these are part of a growing body of evidence about use of Watson by cancer experts. Earlier this month at the prestigious American Society of Clinical Oncology annual meeting, doctors from the U.S., India, Korea and Mexico reported on the utility of Watson for Oncology trained by Memorial Sloan Kettering, adding to data at congresses such as the 2016 San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium. Also at ASCO 2017, Highlands Oncology Group and Novartis presented findings from a technology feasibility study that found use of Watson for Clinical Trials Matching cut the time required to screen patients for clinical trial eligibility by 78 percent.

We look forward to presentations at future congresses as hospitals, health systems and the biopharmaceutical community around the world adopt the Watson oncology offerings. In June alone, IBM announced new distribution partners and providers in Australia, Bangladesh, China and the United States choosing Watson, and evolutions to the Watson offerings. For example, by the end of the year, Watson for Oncology will be available to support at least 12 cancer types, representing 80 percent of the global incidence of cancer.

Further, we are working to optimize and test Watson for Oncology to support a value-based care payment model. Hackensack Meridian Health and Cota will work with IBM to bring Cota’s value-based care and real-world data into Watson for Oncology, which Hackensack Meridian Health oncologists will then use in a pilot to help inform patient care. The goal is ultimately to help oncologists make evidence- and outcomes-based clinical decisions for their cancer patients, which could reduce total cost of care. Novartis is also teaming with IBM on a novel project to provide better insights on the expected outcomes of breast cancer treatment options. This collaboration will join Novartis expertise in breast cancer with IBM Watson Health skill in data analytics and machine learning to determine which combinations and sequences may lead to the best treatment options. The initiative primarily will use real-world patient data.

Additionally, Watson for Genomics is now commercially available for genomic cancer data interpretation via partnerships with Quest Diagnostics, Illumina, and Baheal Pharmaceutical Group among others, and is at work to help broaden access to precision cancer care in the VA health system.

We are just embarking on the journey to cognitive cancer care and to achieving IBMs cancer moonshot. IDC analyst Cynthia Burghard is among the industry experts that note recent progress is meaningful toward democratizing Watson. Her words are encouraging, as are the findings of medical experts like Dr. Sharpless, and the stories of people like Thomas “TJ” Richard and Bharati Shirgurkar from India. I encourage you to Follow IBM Watson Health on Twitter @IBMWatsonHealth and LinkedIn to stay up to date on the latest work with Watson to help oncologists tackle cancer. And let us know what your thoughts about AI and cancer, and your questions about Watson and cancer care.


General Manager, Oncology and Genomics, IBM Watson

Shirley White-Ellul

Hi Robert,
This is a very exciting time to be alive. Watson has so much potential, I can’t even fathom the limits. How can I help get consideration of a project for Watson to use the 23 & Me database to help prevent a medically well-known genetic predisposition to a disease that can lead to cancer? I really think this would be a quick hit for Watson because the disease has been around for hundreds of years. The current day prescribed “cure” has been around for almost 90 years, and irrelevant for today once this disease (even with the cure) moves into cancer. It is known to affect people of Northern European ancestry.

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