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Thousands More Patients Will Soon Be Able to Use IBM’s Watson to Fight Cancer

Inside IBM Corp.'s Watson Headquarters Prior To OpeningInside IBM Corp.'s Watson Headquarters Prior To Opening
IBM's supercomputer is involved in number of health data projectsPhotograph by Michael Nagle – Getty Images

IBM (IBM) Watson is teaming up with Quest Diagnostics (DGX) in a significant expansion of its ongoing cancer genomic sequencing and precision medicine push.

The company announced Monday it is launching a new service with lab testing giant Quest and New York’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center called Watson Genomics from Quest Diagnostics. “The service will make Watson for Genomics widely available to physician and patients nationwide for the first time,” said IBM in a statement.

IBM has already struck prominent collaborative arrangements with major cancer research centers like those at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. The firm is trying to help oncologists identify the proper treatments and clinical trials for their patients’ specific cancers.

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Under the new service, doctors would send Quest a patient’s tissue sample so that it can be genetically sequenced. This genomic information would then be fed to Watson, using its supercomputing powers and Sloan Kettering’s oncology precision medicine database to sift through the latest cancer research and drug trials. The hope is that the process will help doctors more quickly identify the exact treatments that can best serve their patients, since cancer research is an ever-shifting field.

This has always been at the core of IBM’s approach to using big data analytics to boost personalized cancer therapy. Watson Health is already involved in partnerships to boost cancer imaging and extend personalized cancer treatment to 10,000 veterans. Last week, IBM announced that many of its U.S. workers who have cancer will be able to use the supercomputer to find the most effective drugs beginning in 2017.

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But the Quest Diagnostics partnership is a big deal because of the lab testing firm’s reach—half of the country’s doctors and hospitals do business with Quest, and the company’s services extend to community doctors who provide 70% of cancer care in the United States, according to IBM.

“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,” said IBM Research and Cognitive Solutions senior vice president John Kelly in a statement.