Dozens of hospitals to deploy IBM Watson computer in fight against cancer

McDonnell Genome Institute's Lukas Wartman with IBM's Watson Genomic Analytics--Courtesy of IBM

IBM ($IBM) is rolling out at an enhanced, cancer-fighting version of its Jeopardy-winning supercomputer Watson at 14 hospitals across the U.S. The move demonstrates the advent of Big Data, cognitive technology and personalized medicine in healthcare.

IBM says that by using its new Watson Genomic Analysis cloud-based service, more patients will be able to receive personalized medicine because the process of analyzing individuals' genetic mutations, reviewing applicable medical studies and selecting the appropriate medication will be shortened from weeks to minutes, according to the release.

Known for its natural language abilities, Watson will scan information sources like treatment guidelines, research, clinical studies, journal articles and patient information to produce a report about potential drugs that could treat an individual's cancer based on the patient's genetic profile.

It may recommend approved, experimental or even off-label cancer drugs, said IBM Watson Health vice president Steve Harvey, at the announcement's press conference in New York City, according to Business Insider.

"This collaboration is about giving clinicians the ability to do for a broader population what is currently only available to a small number--identify personalized, precision cancer treatments," Harvey said in a statement. "The technology that we're applying to this challenge brings the power of cognitive computing to bear on one of the most urgent and pressing issues of our time--the fight against cancer--in a way that has never before been possible."

The hospitals will pay an undisclosed fee for the subscription to the service.

"Determining the right drug combination for an advanced cancer patient is alarmingly difficult, requiring a complex analysis of different sources of Big Data that integrates rapidly emerging clinical trial information with personalized gene sequencing," said Dr. Norman Sharpless, director of the University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. "We are partnering with IBM in an effort to solve this decision problem with the help of cognitive technology and to improve the decisions we make with our patients to maximize their chance for cure."

Drugs like Genentech's Zelboraf for melanoma patients with a mutated BRAF gene, and Eli Lilly's ($LLY) Erbitux for colon cancer patients with a KRAS mutation and certain type of tumor stand to benefit from Watson Genomic Analysis.

But according to Business Insider, during the press conference, Harvey conceded that "when institutions do genetic sequencing, only about half the cases come back with something actionable" because finding the key "driver" mutation or a therapy that targets the driver mutation isn't always possible.

The healthcare industry has been among the earliest and most aggressive adopters of Watson due to its appetite for Big Data. Last month IBM created a new business unit dubbed Watson Health to focus on healthcare applications for the supercomputer.

The unit announced a partnership with Medtronic ($MDT) to improve the care of diabetes, and IBM said it will help will help Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) create coaching systems for preoperative and postoperative patient care, including joint replacement and spinal surgery.

- read the release
- read the article in Business Insider