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IBM Watson Health, Broad Institute Launch $50M Initiative to Study Drug-Resistant Cancers

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – IBM and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard have launched a five-year, $50 million research initiative that is aimed at discovering the basis for drug resistance in cancers.

The partners will use Watson's computational and machine learning methods to study drug resistance in thousands of tumors. Specifically, the Broad will generate tumor genome sequence data from patients who initially respond to treatment but then become drug-resistant. They will use genome-editing methods to identify vulnerabilities in the tumors and then IBM scientists will use Watson to analyze the data and identify genomic patterns that may help researchers and clinicians predict drug sensitivity and resistance.

"The key will be learning from clinical experience, so that we know cancer's moves in advance and can plan strategies to cut off its escape routes," Eric Lander, founding director of the Broad, said in a statement. "Knowing how cancers can become resistant will ultimately require learning from hundreds of thousands of patients' experiences."         

The partners also plan to make anonymized data from their studies available to the scientific community for research use. "Currently, cancer researchers have access to genomic information from only a few hundred drug-resistant cancers samples," said Todd Golub, chief scientific officer and founder of the cancer program at the Broad. By sharing data from thousands of tumor samples, the partners expect to help advance efforts to understand and treat cancer.

"What we and many others will learn with this information will have important implications for the future of cancer precision medicine and cancer diagnostics," Golub added.

Last month, IBM and Quest Diagnostics launched IBM Watson Genomics from Quest Diagnostics, a service that is available to oncologists nationwide that focuses on oncology diagnostics and providing options for evidence-based methods of treating cancer. The Broad and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center are named as partners in that collaboration.