IBM's Watson to guide cancer therapies at 14 centers
By Sharon Begley
NEW YORK May 5 (Reuters) - Fourteen U.S. and Canadian cancer institutes will use International Business Machines Corp's Watson computer system to choose therapies based on a tumor's genetic fingerprints, the company said on Tuesday, the latest step toward bringing personalized cancer treatments to more patients.
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.
Oncologists will upload the DNA fingerprint of a patient's tumor, which indicates which genes are mutated and possibly driving the malignancy. Watson, recognized broadly for beating two champions of the game show Jeopardy! in 2011, will sift through thousands of mutations and try to identify which is driving the tumor, and therefore what a drug must target.
Distinguishing driver mutations from others is a huge challenge. IBM spent more than a year developing a scoring system so Watson can do that, since targeting non-driver mutations would not help. Continued...