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IBM Watson, VA Announce Partnership to Help Advance Biden’s Cancer Moonshot Effort

June 29, 2016
by Rajiv Leventhal
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At Vice President Joe Biden’s National Cancer Moonshot Summit on June 29, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and IBM Watson Health announced a public-private partnership to help doctors expand and scale access to precision medicine over the next two years for 10,000 American veterans with cancer.

IBM’s Watson for Genomics technology is expected to help in the department’s precision oncology program by providing information to help physicians identify precision treatment options for almost 30 times more patients than could be previously served.

According to an IBM Watson press release, the collaboration is expected to greatly speed up the ability of VA doctors to help identify precision treatment options for veterans. Scientists and pathologists will sequence DNA for cancer patients, then feed de-identified genetic alteration files into Watson. Watson will generate a report for physicians that identifies the likely cancer-causing mutations and possible treatment options to target those specific mutations through a comprehensive review of existing medical literature —a data-intensive process that has been time-consuming and difficult to scale in the past, according to officials.

As a tool to help doctors evaluate treatment options for their patients, Watson for Genomics produces a list of potential therapies ranked by levels of evidence with links to associated research and clinical trials for physicians to consider. This information could help inform VA's healthcare professionals and veterans of promising new cancer treatments.

“Genetic alterations are responsible for most cancers, but it remains challenging for most clinicians to deliver on the promise of precision medicine due to the sheer volume of data surrounding each decision that needs to be made,” said Department of Veterans Affairs Under Secretary for Health Dr. David J. Shulkin. “By applying Watson to this problem, we see an opportunity to scale access to precision medicine for America’s veterans, a group most deserving of the best care in the world.”

The Cancer Moonshot Summit, held at Howard University, in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, featured Biden with more than 350 researchers, oncologists and other care providers, data and technology experts, patients, families, and patient advocates, all with the underlying goal to double the rate of progress in the understanding, prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and care of cancer.

Since President Obama put Biden in charge of a new national effort to end cancer in his final State of the Union address earlier this year, many initiatives to move that goal forward have taken form, some of which include: the establishment of a Cancer Moonshot Task Force, bringing together every federal agency that has a part to play in the fight against cancer; a White House announcement in February of a $195 million investment at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Fiscal Year 2016 as part of a proposed nearly $1 billion budget initiative for the Cancer Moonshot; and a recently announced consortium of leading health systems that are creating the Oncology Precision Network (OPN), a data sharing network that aggregates clinical, genomics, treatment and outcomes data to advance cancer care.

Biden also recently announced the The Genomic Data Commons, a data sharing effort that according to the White House, aims to create “a foundational system for broad sharing and analysis of tumor genome sequences (the DNA unique to cancer cells), which is critical for advancing the field of precision medicine and improving the care of cancer patients, and is designed with appropriate privacy and security protections.”



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