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IBM's Watson to Help VA Advance Precision Cancer Care

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – The US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and IBM today announced that they have formed a two-year partnership to help the agency accelerate its efforts to provide personalized medical care to veterans with cancer.

Under the alliance, VA physicians will use IBM's Watson for Genomics computational technology to help identify precision cancer treatment options. Specifically, patients' de-identified sequence data will be entered into Watson, which will compare it with existing medical literature. Watson will then identify the mutations most likely to be responsible for each patient's cancer and suggest treatment options targeting those genetic alterations.

Findings related to identified treatment options in the literature will also be made available to the broader scientific community. 

"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," Department of Veterans Affairs Under Secretary for Health David Shulkin said in a statement. "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 deal with the VA marks the latest in a series of alliances IBM has struck to use its Watson technology in precision medicine. 

In early 2014, the company formed a collaboration with the New York Genome Center to use the computer system to help identify personalized treatments for brain cancer patients in a small clinical study. The next year, IBM partnered with 14 cancer institutes to use Watson to create genetic profiles of patients with a variety of cancers.

 Also in 2015, Boston Children's Hospital began using Watson to identify possible options for diagnosing and treating rare pediatric diseases.