Dr. Norman Sharpless at UNC using Watson for Genomics
A new partnership announced today by IBM and Quest Diagnostics offers new hope for cancer victims — especially late-stage patients and patients for whom standard treatments have not been successful. But it may also level the treatment playing field between academic and community cancer centers.
"Significant advances continue to emerge every day, but access to precision medicine is limited," Steve Harvey, VP IBM Watson health told HCB News. "With Watson Genomics from Quest Diagnostics, we have an opportunity to democratize knowledge and data, and scale access to the precision cancer treatment."
According to Harvey, the technology was tested through collaboration between more than 20 cancer institutes worldwide. A team of oncologists were able to use the platform to score millions of pages of medical literature and thousands of clinical trials in minutes, allowing them to select the most relevant, evidence-based treatment option for their patients.
"With Watson, we have a major opportunity to scale access to this cutting-edge technology," said Harvey. "Any physician in the U.S. can order a genomic sequencing test and Watson report from Quest."
Once a doctor sends in a tissue sample to Quest, the company sequences the tumor and submits the results to Watson for analysis. Watson sorts through millions of research papers, drug data and clinical trials to search for treatment options that might target the tumor mutations. Quest pathologists review Watson's report and send it back to the treating oncologist.
Vice President Joe Biden announced in June that the U.S. will also provide this technology to the Veteran's Administration as a treatment option for up to 10,000 veterans a year with cancer. Biden, under the auspices of his National Cancer Moonshot Summit, has been pressuring Congress to provide more funding for personalized, evidence-based cancer treatments.
According to the National Cancer Institute, nearly 1.7 million new cancer cases are diagnosed every year, and about 17 million people are living with cancer.