Quest, IBM bring artificial intelligence to genomic tumor data


It’s difficult for physicians to routinely incorporate genomic tumor data into patient treatment decisions, not only because of the complexity and difficulties of the data itself, but also because so few treatments lend themselves to treating specific genetic tumor types.

IBM Watson Health ($IBM) and Quest Diagnostics ($DGX) aim to make at least one aspect of that equation much easier by offering broad-based access to cognitive computing analysis of genomic tumor sequencing.

The partners have launched the service, known as IBM Watson Genomics from Quest Diagnostics, and rolled it out to all of Quest’s customers, which includes half of U.S. physicians and hospitals including community oncologists who provide an estimated 70% of all cancer care in the country.

“Through this collaboration with the cancer community’s leading clinical and pathology experts, thousands of more patients can potentially benefit from the world’s growing body of knowledge about this disease,” said IBM Research and Cognitive Solutions SVP John Kelly III in a statement.

As part of the project, the well-regarded Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK) will add to Watson with its own precision oncology database, OncoKB, which is designed to inform the better determination of treatment options for cancer patients. The Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard University will also provide additional genome sequencing capabilities.

The Watson Genomics service enables a treating physician to send a solid tumor biopsy to Quest Diagnostics. A pathologist prepares the sample and it is genetically sequenced. Watson compares that data with massive amounts of information from clinical, scientific and pharmacological databases in order to identify the best therapeutic options for that patient’s particular tumor mutations. The Quest pathologist reviews the results and then sends a report with treatment recommendations for that particular patient to the physician.

“Access to genomic sequencing and tumor analysis required to determine appropriate precision medicine treatments for a patient can be a challenge,” said Quest CMO and SVP of research, development and medical Dr. Jay Wohlgemuth. “This service combines Quest’s state-of-the-art tumor analysis and national access with the cognitive computing of IBM’s Watson and the deep cancer treatment expertise of MSK. This is a powerful combination that we believe it will leap frog conventional genomic services as a better approach for identifying targeted oncology treatments.”