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Pathway Genomics Preps Personalized Health App Powered by IBM's Watson for 2015 Launch


NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – Pathway Genomics is developing a mobile application that will use IBM's Watson technology to couple individuals' health and genetic information with data from peer-reviewed medical journal articles and clinical trials to provide personalized feedback in response to users' wellness-related queries.

Pathway Genomics intends to launch separate versions of the app, called Pathway Panorama, one of which will be for individual use and a second implementation for physicians that will be customized by specialties such as primary care and oncology, Ardy Arianpour, Pathway's chief strategy officer, told BioInform. These apps will tap into Watson's cognitive computing and natural language processing abilities and allow users to ask "health-related questions in their own words and receive personalized and relevant responses," Stephen Gold, vice president of the IBM Watson Group, said in a statement.

For example, users of the individual version of the app will be able to get answers to questions, such as how much to exercise, that are based on a combination of millions of pages of healthcare-related, evidence-based data from Pathway Genomics as well as their own biomarkers, electronic health records, and information gleaned from wearable devices — the exact mechanics of how data from these varied sources will be integrated into the app are not being disclosed at this time.

In addition to suggesting healthier behaviors, the app will also monitor a user's health and wellness information, and let them know when new, relevant recommendations are available. The physician's version of the app will, among other capabilities, allow doctors to review their patients' test reports and ask questions based on the findings.

Pathway Genomics plans to release both versions of its app in early 2015 and to make them available in both Google's and Apple's app stores at that time. Meanwhile, the company continues to test the applications on both the Android and iOS mobile operating systems with unnamed early-access customers — both medical professional and individual users — and is incorporating new features per testers' requests Pathway also plans to integrate the app with devices such as Apple Healthkit and Jawbone, Arianpour told BioInform.

Pathway Panorama accepts and uses data from tests provided by Pathway Genomics as well as reports provided by other clinical testing laboratories, but it can also be used by customers who haven’t had any genetic tests done at all. That means that the app could be purchased by a much wider pool of users than just Pathway Genomics' test customers. "That’s the beauty of it," Arianpour said. "You don't need a genetic test to utilize the app. The IBM Watson-powered engine will integrate with your Apple Healthkit data, your Fitbit data, and your sleeping pattern data [for example] … it will pull data from all sorts of things."

The company is still working out pricing details for its apps. Arianpour said that Pathway Genomics plans to offer a free version of Pathway Panorama and then various priced premium versions. He declined to disclose what capabilities the free and priced versions of the applications will offer.

The launch of the Panorama apps are just the first step in what Pathway Genomics sees as a natural evolution of its genetic testing business, according to Arianpour. The commercial clinical diagnostic laboratory has been around since 2008 and offers tests for cancer, pain management, mental health, and wellness.

The addition of Pathway Panorama to its portfolio gives past, existing, and future customers of the company's tests access to tools that will help them derive additional benefits from their test results, he said. Moreover, the lab can also tap into the growing market of people taking advantage of cheaper sequencing prices to get their genomes read, and who will be looking for useful interpretations of the information they get back. With that in mind, "we are making a heavy investment in combining our laboratory operations with apps such as Panorama and I think this will be the beginning [of] many good things," Arianpour said.

IBM's Watson Group has invested an undisclosed amount to support the development of Pathway Panorama and is providing its cloud-based artificially intelligent system to back the application. The investment is part of a larger $1 billion investment IBM has put into its Watson Group. Of that amount, $100 million has been allocated for venture investments to support IBM's ecosystem of startups and businesses building cognitive apps made with Watson. Pathway Genomics is the third company that the Watson Group has invested in.

Other applications of IBM's Watson in the genetics arena include an implementation of the system designed for genomic data, which is being used in a clinical research study focused on the aggressive brain cancer glioblastoma at the New York Genome Center, which is working in conjunction with nine hospitals in New York state. For the study, which launched this past March, researchers are using the system to analyze sequence information from about 20 recently diagnosed patients.

More recently, IBM announced the availability of Watson Discovery Advisor, a cloud-based system that is able to understand and use scientific language like chemical and biological terms as well as legal and intellectual property language to suggest potential research directions.

IBM is also working with Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center to apply Watson to cancer diagnosis and therapy selection. When the collaboration was first announced in 2012, the partners explained that they planned to use the system to integrate patients' clinical information, molecular and genomic data, and clinical oncology practices from the literature to advise physicians on the best treatments for their patients.