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Froedtert and Medical College of Wisconsin Cancer Network Taps Watson for Clinical Trial Matching

June 3, 2016
by Heather Landi
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Credit: Froedtert & MCW Cancer Network

Milwaukee-based Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin Cancer Network plans to leverage IBM Watson’s cognitive computing to help match cancer patients with clinical trials.

The Froedtert & MCW Cancer Network, a partnership between Froedtert Health and the Medical College of Wisconsin, is the first in Wisconsin and among the first cancer programs in the nation to use Watson for clinical trial matching, according to a press release. The matching program is slated to begin in the fall.

Clinical trials are vital for developing new treatment options for cancer. Finding and enrolling eligible patients in clinical trials is difficult, and less than five percent of cancer patients are participating in a trial, according to IBM. Watson for Clinical Trial Matching is designed to complete the data-intensive process of matching patients with clinical trials, and provide doctors the information they need to advise their patients about relevant studies.

For example, after a clinician submits a patient’s unique health information, Watson will analyze the patient’s data against clinical trial databases to provide clinicians with information regarding a patient’s eligibility for a specific trial, according to IBM.

"Clinical trials are at the heart of all medical advances to find new ways to prevent, detect and treat cancer. However, no two people and no two cancers are alike,” James Thomas, M.D., Ph.D., oncologist and medical director, Froedtert & MCW Cancer Clinical Trials Office and Translational Research Unit, said in a statement. He is also a professor of hematology-oncology at MCW. “Watson will support a higher level of personalized care for our patients by enabling us to securely connect individual health information with a vast array of clinical trials. By matching clinical trials to more patients with a high degree of precision, we believe Watson will help us fulfill our mission to advance the health of our community through scientific discovery."

Clinical trials offer patients access to investigational and emerging treatments. Often, enrolling participants in trials can be challenging. For example, a clinical trial for a new breast cancer treatment may require more than100 patients who meet specific criteria, such as a certain genetic marker, age range, tumor stage or treatment history.

Froedtert & MCW physicians and researchers conducted 220 cancer clinical trials in 2015. In addition, according to clinicaltrials.gov, an international registry of clinical trials at the National Institutes of Health, approximately 53,000 cancer clinical trials are ongoing nationally at any given time.

IBM is working with Froedtert & MCW leaders to implement a version of Watson for Clinical Trial Matching tailored to the needs of the Froedtert & MCW Cancer Network, which includes four locations in southeastern Wisconsin.

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