IBM to personalize cancer treatments

May 05, 2015, 4:36 PM EDT
Terry Jones, founder of and founding chairman of, right, speaks with Mike Rhodin, senior vice president of the IBM Watson for International Business Machines Corp., during an event at the IBM Watson headquarters in New York, U.S., on Tuesday, Oct. 7, 2014.
Bloomberg via Getty Images

The International Business Machines Corp's Watson computer system will launch in 14 North American centers to help patients choose therapies based on a tumor's genetic fingerprints. Reuters reports:

Oncology is the first specialty where matching therapy to DNA has improved outcomes for some patients, inspiring the "precision medicine initiative" President Barack Obama announced in January.
But it can take weeks to identify drugs targeting cancer-causing mutations. Watson can do it in minutes and has in its database the findings of scientific papers and clinical trials on particular cancers and potential therapies.
Faced with such a data deluge, "the solution is going to be Watson or something like it," said oncologist Norman Sharpless of the University of North Carolina Lineberger Cancer Center. "Humans alone can't do it."
It is unclear how many patients will be helped by such a "big data" approach, however. For one thing, in many common cancers old-line chemotherapy and radiation will remain the standard of care and genomic analysis may not make a difference.
Cloud-based Watson will be used at the centers – including Cleveland Clinic, Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center in Omaha and Yale Cancer Center – by late 2015, said Steve Harvey, vice president of IBM Watson Health. The centers pay a subscription fee, which IBM did not disclose.
According to IBM, the Mayo Clinic and Epic effort is designed to analyze factors that could impact wellness. Epic has 350 customers and has exchanged 80 million medical records in the last year. Watson and Epic could link up to provide patient treatments and personalize management for chronic conditions. Epic will embed Watson via application programming interfaces (APIs).
In addition, Watson Health said it will partner with more than a dozen cancer institutes to personalize treatment via DNA. The aim here is to understand a genetic profile and gather medical literature to come up with treatments.