IBM, Quest Diagnostics Launch Watson for Genomics Service

IBM Watson Health and Quest Diagnostics have partnered to deliver IBM Watson Genomics, the first commercial offering from Watson for Genomics.

IBM Watson Health HQ

IBM's Watson Health unit and Quest Diagnostics have teamed up to deliver the first commercial offering from Watson for Genomics—IBM Watson Genomics from Quest Diagnostics.

The new IBM Watson for Genomics service is aimed at helping oncologists generate more individualized plans and deliver more personal cancer treatment for patients based on genomic sequencing. The service combines the cognitive computing power of IBM's Watson with genomic sequencing from Quest.

Quest Diagnostics serves a broad base of doctors and hospitals that provide an estimated 70 percent of cancer care in the United States, IBM said.

IBM said to use the service, a doctor would send a tissue sample to Quest for the company to sequence the tumor DNA and feed the genetic data into Watson for analysis. Watson then pores through millions of research papers, drug data, clinical trials and other data to search for treatment options. Watson for Genomics ingests approximately 10,000 scientific articles and 100 new clinical trials every month.

Moreover, IBM noted that Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK) will supplement the Watson cancer data trove with OncoKB, a precision oncology knowledge base to help provide precision treatment options for cancer patients.

"Leveraging genomic data for 'precision medicine' has long been a dream for oncologists and other physicians but there are numerous stumbling blocks," said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT. "First and foremost is the sheer volume of existing treatment information and data coming from various studies and trials. Plus, those information resources continue to accumulate and grow massively, swamping efforts designed to wrest insights from those assets."

The Broad Institute of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard will provide additional genome sequencing capabilities as part of the collaboration, IBM said.

"Precision medicine is changing the way we treat cancer and giving new hope to people living with the disease," said Dr. Jay G. Wohlgemuth, chief medical officer and senior vice president of research, development and medical at Quest Diagnostics, in a statement. "However, access to genomic sequencing and tumor analysis required to determine appropriate precision medicine treatments for a patient can be a challenge. This service combines Quest’s state-of-the-art tumor analysis and national access with the cognitive computing of IBM's Watson and the deep cancer treatment expertise of MSK. This is a powerful combination that we believe it will leap frog conventional genomic services as a better approach for identifying targeted oncology treatments."

Dr. Paul Sabbatini, Deputy Physician-in-Chief for Clinical Research at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, while it is commonly known that genetic alterations are responsible for many cancers, "but it remains challenging for most clinicians to deliver on the promise of precision medicine since it requires specialized expertise and a time-consuming interpretation of massive amounts of data. Through this collaboration, oncologists will have access to MSK's expertly curated information about the effects and treatment implications of specific cancer gene alterations. This has the power to scale expertise and help improve patient care."

For the past two years, IBM has collaborated with more than 20 cancer institutions to train and validate Watson for Genomics. IBM and the University of North Carolina School of Medicine tested the technology on 1,000 cancer diagnoses made by human experts. Watson matched the expert oncologists on 99 percent of the cases—but in 30 percent of the cases, Watson also found a treatment option the doctors missed. These options came primarily from research papers the doctors had not yet read.

Also, last Sunday, the CBS television network’s 60 Minutes news program featured Watson for Genomics in a segment that underscored the value of cognitive computing to advance precision medicine, augmenting human intelligence. And at Vice President Biden’s National Cancer Moonshot Summit in June, IBM announced it would provide the technology to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to bring precision treatment options to up to 10,000 veterans with cancer.

IBM said for its just-ended third quarter, the company’s analytics offerings—including Watson—grew 14 percent.

"We are focused on scaling our Watson Heath business. We have over 7,000 employees and target four major areas: Life Sciences, Oncology, Imaging and Value Based Care," said Martin Schroeter, IBM's chief financial officer, during his Oct. 17 earnings call with analysts. "We launched new offerings, such as Watson for Drug Discovery, which is a cloud-based scalable platform that helps life science researchers discover new disease pathways, new drug targets and additional drug indications."