Data Exchange
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IBM Watson Health and Quest Diagnostics have announced the launch of a precision medicine diagnostics service for cancer that marks the broadest application of the Watson technology for clinical decision support to date.

The service, dubbed IBM Watson Genomics from Quest Diagnostics, will pair gene sequencing with cognitive computing—supplemented by the OncoKB databased from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center—and will help bring precision medicine approaches to community oncologists who comprise the bulk of cancer care in the U.S.

The approach taken by the two companies is aimed at providing relevant genomic interpretation of individual patients’ cancers.

“Today more patients are benefitting from personalized treatments that target cancer cells containing specific genetic mutations. However, it can be difficult to decide which targeted therapies are most appropriate, as it requires a time-consuming analysis of massive amounts of data,” said Jay Wohlgemuth, M.D., senior vice president R&D, medical, and CMO of Quest Diagnostics. “This new service accelerates this analysis and provides personalized therapeutic options for your patient's unique situation. With this enhanced insight, you can take more informed actions for treatment and feel more certain about the best path forward.”

According to Quest, the initial test under this offering will focus on solid tumors using a 50-gene panel. The sequencing service will identify single nucleotide variants, insertions and deletions, copy number variations and select rearrangements. Sequencing services and annotations will be provided at the Quest Diagnostics Nichols Institute in San Juan Capistrano, CA.

To avail themselves of the service, ordering physicians will send a solid tumor sample to Quest’s lab in San Juan Capistrano where it will sequence the tissue. The data from the sequencing will be fed to Watson, which will compare the patient’s genomic data against the broad array of scientific, clinical and pharmacological databases to help determine which available therapies will most effectively treat the cancer based on its mutational profile. In the final step, a Quest pathologist will validate the results and prepare a report to return to doctor who ordered the test.

“The beauty of Watson is that it can be used to dramatically scale access to knowledge and scientific insight, whether a patient is being treated in an urban academic medical center or a rural community clinic,” said John Kelly III, Ph.D., SVP, IBM research and cognitive solutions. “Through this collaboration with the cancer community’s leading clinical and pathology experts, thousands of more patients can potentially benefit from the world’s growing body of knowledge about this disease.”

According to IBM Watson Genomics, its platform leverages artificial intelligence and natural language processing technology as the central tools to  extract relevant information from the existing body of cancer research including the 15,000 new studies that are published each and every month. Without tools like Watson, it would simply be impossible for doctors and care teams to search all relevant studies to make targeted therapeutic choices for their patients. Joining with Quest will bring this knowledge and analytic capability to a much broader range of treating physicians.

“This service will help advance precision medicine by combining cognitive computing with genomic tumor sequencing and bring it to clinicians and their patients around the country, no matter where they live – not just at major cancer centers,” said Wohlgemuth. “In fact, community oncologists provide 70% of cancer care. The beauty of this service is that it can be used to dramatically scale access to knowledge and scientific insight, whether a patient is being treated in an urban academic medical center or a rural community clinic. This is part of a larger strategy to reach community oncologists, like our recent acquisition of Med Fusion, to form a national precision oncology center of excellence in Texas.”

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