IBM's Watson, New York Genome Center Partner to Bring Personalized Medicine to Cancer Patients

In 2001, it cost more than $300 million to sequence a human genome, according to the Personalized Medicine Coalition. In 2011, the cost was down to $5,000.

"This cost curve is rapidly decreasing," says Sean Hogan, vice president of healthcare at IBM, thanks to scientific advancements and the development of new technology. He estimates the current cost of genome sequencing to be around $1,000, and predicts it will drop to $100 in the foreseeable future.

Cheaper sequencing will improve access to patients' genetic information and create more opportunities for personalized medicine, or the tailoring of a treatment plan to a patient's genetic makeup, says Mr. Hogan.

"And now that we can get it, we need to tap into it," he says. "This is what personalized medicine is about, you need to both be able to get the information and then apply and use it."

That's where IBM's Watson technology comes in. Watson's core capability, which helped it win on Jeopardy!, is the ability to quickly process massive amounts of information and come to a conclusion. Through a new partnership with the New York Genome Center, IBM is harnessing Watson's technology to help providers correlate combine and analyze genomic sequencing data with medical literature and pharmaceutical information to find the best treatment paths for individual patients.

Sequencing a patient's genes results in about 100 gigabyes of data (an amount that would fill about 25 standard DVDs). This amount of data, along with other pertinent information such as medical literature and recent studies, is too much information for physicians to analyze in a timely manner, says Mr. Hogan.

Watson's artificial intelligence will be able to process a patient's genetic information along with all available medical literature, new findings and pharmaceutical information, producing personalized, evidence-based treatment recommendations far sooner than could be done before.

In a joint research study, IBM and the NYGC plan to first focus on treatments for glioblastoma, a brain cancer that claims more than 13,000 American lives each year. The aggressive progression of glioblastoma puts patients with the condition in special need of Watson's ability to find a tailored treatment option and find it fast.

"As we all know, cancer is a race," says Mr. Hogan. "You want to discover it and deal with it as quickly as possible… [Watson] will help providers quickly identify and then go down the treatment path that represents the best possibility for the patient."

Due to the rapidly decreasing cost of genomic sequencing, Mr. Hogan estimates more than 1 million genomes will be mapped in the next two years. He hopes the partnership with the NYGC will show how this increasingly accessible information can be used by providers and researchers to discover the best treatment options for patients across the country.

"It's such a neat opportunity to be at the cutting edge of the practical application [of genetic information]," he says. "As we start to understand the pathways of disease and the best treatments based on this evidence, we'll be able to support physicians working to fight these diseases, and that's what personalized medicine is all about."

More Articles on Personalized Medicine:

What the JAMA Study on the Pitfalls of Using Genetic Markers for Clinical Decisions Means for the Future of Personalized Medicine
The Impact of Disruptive Technology and the Extinction of Hospital Care
10 Biggest Technological Advancements for Healthcare in the Last Decade

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