IBM Watson, Novartis join forces on breast cancer

IBM and Novartis are teaming up on a cognitive solution aimed at improving care and outcomes for breast cancer patients.

Novartis will bring its breast cancer expertise, while IBM will contribute its data analytics and machine learning chops, the Swiss pharma said in a statement. The collaboration seeks to use real-world data to better understand the expected outcomes of various breast cancer treatments.

IBM markets Watson tools that help oncologists make treatment decisions for cancer patients and facilitate the matching of patients to clinical trials. Meanwhile, Novartis markets four breast cancer drugs, including the newly FDA-approved Kisqali, and has a number of candidates in its pipeline.

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"Through this collaboration with IBM Watson Health, we will use real-world breast cancer data and cognitive computing to identify solutions that may help physicians better understand which therapy may be best for which patients or advise clinical practice guidelines, with the goal of improving patient outcomes and experiences," said Bruno Strigini, CEO of Novartis Oncology, in the statement. The project could lay the groundwork to improve outcomes in other cancers, Novartis said.

"As the industry shifts toward value-based care, it's critical for clinicians to understand the real-world outcomes of therapeutics on subsets of their patients, and our goal ultimately is to put those insights into oncologists' hands,” said Anil Jain, M.D., chief medical informatics officer at IBM Watson Health, in the statement. “With the deep expertise of Novartis in breast cancer, we are confident that this collaboration may provide transformative tools for clinicians and patients to make more informed treatment decisions."

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The announcement comes after IBM presented data at the American Society of Clinical Oncology annual meeting that showed its Watson for Oncology tool agreed with oncologists on treatment decisions most of the time.

And on Sunday, IBM announced it is partnering with Baheal Pharmaceutical Group to expand Watson’s footprint in China. This follows the rollout of Watson for Oncology to 22 hospitals in China, announced last summer.