Fourteen US and Canadian cancer centers announced it will used IBM Watson to compare a patient’s tumor genetic fingerprints to databases of cancer genes and findings of scientific papers and clinical trials on cancer in a matter of minutes, BI reports. Oncology is the first specialty where matching therapy to DNA has improved patient outcomes and has inspired President Obama’s “Precision Medicine Initiative” announced in January.
Typically, drugs targeting cancer-causing mutations can takes weeks to identify. By utilizing IBM Watson’s cloud-based platform, DNA sequencing can be performed in a matter of minutes.
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.”.
How It Works
Oncologists will upload the DNA fingerprint of a patient’s tumor, which indicates which genes are mutated and possibly driving the malignancy. Watson will then look for actionable targets, matching them to approved and experimental cancer drugs and even non-cancer drugs (if Watson decides the latter interface with a biological pathway driving a malignancy). The centers will pay a subscription fee for Watson, which IBM did not disclose.
For now it is still unclear if this “big data” approach will help patients; however, scientists are hopeful this approach can make a difference in cancer treatment. Steve Harvey, vice president of IBM Watson Health admits that Watson does have trouble identifying actionable targets in cancers with many mutations. In most common tumors, traditional chemotherapy and radiation remains the standard of care. Therefore, genetic sequencing/analysis may not make a difference. IBM spent more than a year developing a scoring system so Watson can do that, since targeting non-driver mutations would not help.
“Traditional cancer treatments are moderately effective, associated with moderate toxicity, and many patients still succumb to the disease. There’s been a lot of pessimism among those [fighting] cancer, and Watson offers an opportunity to fight back against that pessimism,” said Lukas Wartman, assistant director of Cancer Genomics at Washington University and a leukemia survivor, at Tuesday’s press conference
The fourteen participating healthcare centers include:
- Ann & Robert H Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago
- BC Cancer Agency
- City of Hope
- Cleveland Clinic
- Duke Cancer Institute
- Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center in Omaha, Nebraska
- McDonnell Genome Institute at Washington University in St. Louis
- New York Genome Center
- Sanford Health
- University of Kansas Cancer Center
- University of North Carolina Lineberger Cancer Center
- University of Southern California Center for Applied Molecular Medicine ;
- University of Washington Medical Center
- Yale Cancer Center