Mayo Clinic to apply IBM's Watson to matching patients to trials

Mayo Clinic and IBM ($IBM) have teamed up to apply cutting-edge technology to the age-old problem of enrolling patients into clinical trials. Starting next year Mayo Clinic will use IBM's supercomputer Watson to automatically match patients to clinical trials.

The idea is for Watson to take over some of the work of comparing a patient's characteristics to the inclusion/exclusion criteria for recruiting clinical trials, a process that is currently done manually at Mayo Clinic. Automating this process could mean more of Mayo Clinic's patients are matched to the 8,000 clinical trials in which it is participating at any given time. The goal is to double the proportion of patients that take part in clinical research, bringing the number up to 10%.

Such an improvement would reduce the enrollment bottleneck faced by many clinical trials while also cutting the time it takes for patients to access potentially beneficial experimental medicines. "Using Watson's cognitive computing capabilities, Mayo Clinic can consistently offer more cutting-edge medical options to patients and conclude trials faster," IBM SVP Mike Rhodin said in a statement.

IBM is designing a version of Watson specifically for the needs of Mayo Clinic. The process involves adding details of all the clinical trials underway at Mayo Clinic--plus those on Watson's library. Watson is also being trained to find matches between the trials in these resources and health records of patients at Mayo Clinic.

The Mayo Clinic project is one of several initiatives underway at IBM to increase use of Watson in life sciences. Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) and Sanofi ($SNY) are also using the technology for drug research.

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