Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and IBM collaborate to
develop oncology decision support with IBM Watson
30 April 2012
Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) and IBM (NYSE:
IBM) have agreed to collaborate on the development of a powerful tool
built upon IBM Watson in order to provide medical professionals with
improved access to current and comprehensive cancer data and practices.
The resulting decision support tool will help doctors everywhere
create individualized cancer diagnostic and treatment
recommendations for their patients based on current evidence.
The initiative will combine the computational power of IBM Watson
and its natural language processing ability with MSKCC’s clinical
knowledge, existing molecular and genomic data and vast repository
of cancer case histories, in order to create an outcome and
evidence-based decision support system. The goal is to give
oncologists located anywhere the ability to obtain detailed
diagnostic and treatment options based on updated research that will
help them decide how best to care for an individual patient.
The IBM Watson system gained fame by beating human contestants on
the television quiz show Jeopardy! It can interpret queries in
natural language and uses statistical analysis, advanced analytics
and a powerful array of processors to search millions of pages in
seconds and deliver evidence-based statistically-ranked responses.
MSKCC’s world-renowned oncologists will assist in developing IBM
Watson to use a patient’s medical information and synthesize a vast
array of continuously updated and vetted treatment guidelines,
published research and insights gleaned from the deep experience of
MSKCC clinicians to provide an individualized recommendation to
physicians. The tool will also provide users with a detailed record
of the data and evidence used to reach the recommendations.
Increasing complexity in cancer treatment
The need for such an advanced technology arises from the steadily
increasing complexity of oncology treatment. Cancer is not one
disease but some hundreds of sub-types, each with a different
genetic fingerprint. Significant discoveries in molecular biology
and genetics in the past two decades have delivered new insights
into cancer biology and strategies for targeting specific molecular
alterations in tumors, but these advances have also ratcheted up the
complexity of diagnosing and treating each case.
Oncologists and physicians who do not specialize in specific
sub-types of cancer face a significant challenge in keeping up with
the magnitude of rapidly changing information.
“The combination of transformational technologies found in Watson
with our cancer analytics and decision-making process has the
potential to revolutionize the accessibility of information for the
treatment of cancer in communities across the country and around the
world,” said MSKCC President and CEO Craig B. Thompson. “Consistent
with our mission, the vision is to help better identify and
personalize cancer therapies for each individual patient, no matter
where that patient may be receiving care. We also expect tremendous
new research opportunities to emerge from this collaboration.”
“Memorial Sloan-Kettering’s evidence-based clinical approach,
scientific acumen, and vast database make it the ideal partner in
this ambitious project,” said Dr. Martin Kohn, chief medical
scientist, IBM. “Cancer care is profoundly complex with continuous
clinical and scientific advancements to consider. This field of
clinical information, given its importance on both a human and
economic level, is exactly the type of grand challenge IBM Watson
can help address.”
“This comprehensive, evidence-based approach will profoundly
enhance cancer care by accelerating the dissemination of
practice-changing research at an unprecedented pace,” said Dr. Mark
G. Kris, Chief, Thoracic Oncology Service at MSKCC and one of the
clinicians leading the development effort. He noted that 85 percent
of patients with cancer are not treated at specialized medical
centers and it can take years for the latest developments in
oncology to reach all practice settings.
Development work is already underway for the first applications,
which include lung, breast and prostate cancers. The objective is to
begin piloting the solutions to a select group of oncologists in
late 2012, with wider distribution planned for late 2013.
This collaboration complements an earlier announcement by IBM and
WellPoint that the parties will focus on putting Watson to work on