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Watson Health: Setting the Record Straight

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We at IBM have a lot to be proud of, including our pioneering work with Watson Health. Unfortunately, some media reports, including an August 11th story published by The Wall Street Journal, distort and ignore facts when suggesting IBM has not made “enough” progress on bringing the benefits of AI to healthcare.  I feel it is imperative to set the record straight.

First, let’s level set.  It is true, as the article reports, that we at IBM have placed a big bet on healthcare.  We have done this for two reasons: 1) Most importantly, we know that AI can make a big difference in solving medical challenges and supporting the work of the healthcare industry, and 2) We see an enormous business opportunity in this area as the adoption of AI increases.

Our focus at IBM Watson Health is in applying next-generation AI technology to cancer care and other major healthcare challenges so people around the world can live better, healthier, longer lives. We have built three distinct cancer tools that help physicians around the world treat patients:

We are working closely with premier cancer institutes like Memorial Sloan Kettering and Mayo Clinic to evolve and refine these tools. Together they are now in use at 230 hospitals and health organizations globally and have nearly doubled the number of patients they’ve reached in the first six months of the year to 84,000.

We have always believed that the role of technology is to assist a doctor in delivering better care and patient outcomes. Therefore, the first question we asked ourselves was, “can Watson help oncologists make better decisions for their patients?” Repeatedly, the answer has proven to be a resounding “yes,” as demonstrated in both peer-reviewed research as well as regular feedback from those using these tools.

To suggest there has been no patient benefit is to ignore both what we know The Wall Street Journal was told by a number of physicians around the world and these institutions’ own public comments – which we believe speak for themselves:

  • Mayo Clinic physicians presented a poster presentation at the ASCO Annual Meeting, reporting that Watson for Clinical Trial Matching boosted enrollment in breast cancer trials by 80% following implementation (to 6.3 patients/month, up from 3.5 patients/month in the immediate 18 months prior). (http://abstracts.asco.org/214/AbstView_214_218403.html)
  • Dr. Thaddeus Beck and the group at Highland Oncology Group reported that Watson Clinical Trial Matching reduced the time for clinical trials matching by 78%. (http://ascopubs.org/doi/abs/10.1200/JCO.2017.35.15_suppl.6501)
  • Working closely with our training partner Memorial Sloan Kettering, Dr. Mark Kris and the oncologists at MSK have helped to train Watson for Oncology on 13 cancers, representing up to 80% of the global cancer incidence and prevalence.
  • Dr. Somashekhar and Manipal Hospital published a 93% concordance rate in breast cancer for their multidisciplinary tumor board in the Annals of Oncology earlier this year, and recently stated that they use Watson for Oncology with all of their complex cases in their multidisciplinary tumor board and it is changing their treatment recommendations in 9-11% of patient cases. (https://academic.oup.com/annonc/article/29/2/418/4781689)
  • Dr. Michael Kelley and the Department of Veterans Affairs just extended their contract with us for Watson for Genomics, with nearly 3,000 veterans facing Stage 4 cancer being supported by this tool so far.
  • Dr. William Kim and the University of North Carolina Lineberger Cancer Center published a study where Watson for Genomics found new, actionable mutations in 32% of patients. (http://theoncologist.alphamedpress.org/content/early/2017/11/20/theoncologist.2017-0170.abstract)

IBM has never shied away from grand challenges, and we know they don’t happen overnight and are not easy. Whether it’s the creation of the world’s first commercial computer, putting man on the moon, or more recently developing the fastest and smartest supercomputer on the planet, we go all in.

I will close by reiterating we are absolutely committed to being a positive force in applying AI and other technologies to healthcare. The opportunity, including the potential impact on patients around the world, is too important. Our work is only getting started. We are steadfast in our purpose and committed to our partners and clients around the world as together we continue to move forward.

IBM Senior Vice President, Cognitive Solutions and IBM Research

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