IBM Joins Fight Against Cancer in Developing Nations

Armed with big data and analytics, IBM enlists in the fight against cancer in developing nations by building a cancer registry.

IBM is working with the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) to create a massive clinical data set on cancer patients by building cancer registries in developing nations.

Company officials said IBM's efforts will start where they are most needed, in Sub-Saharan Africa—where less than 1 percent of the region's population is covered by a cancer registry. With more than a billion people in the region, the new effort will improve cancer registration and, in time, treatment for patients in Africa while enriching knowledge about cancer for patients all over the world.

IBM said this data set could become the world's largest and most comprehensive clinical data set on cancer patients, and the company is donating its big data and analytics technology to the cause.

Cancer registries provide governments with incidence and mortality data so effective policies for cancer control can be developed. They also provide clinicians with information about patient outcomes to help identify tailored treatment options. Reliable and comprehensive data leads to the most effective interventions for saving lives, IBM said.

Gary Cohen, chairman of IBM Africa, announced IBM's donation of big data and analytics technology at the World Cancer Leaders' Summit in Cape Town, South Africa. "IBM's objective is to help find ways to level the field of access through innovation and knowledge, so that we can bridge the divide between the discovery of cancer and the delivery of treatment with positive outcomes—regardless of geography," he said, in a statement.

IBM officials said the initiative will begin in two to three countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, continue throughout the region, and extend to Southeast Asia and Latin America. The IBM collaboration supports UICC's work with the Global Initiative for Cancer Registries (GICR) in low- and middle-income countries. According to the World Health Organization, about 70 percent of all cancer deaths occur in developing nations. Experts predict that the Sub-Saharan region alone will see more than an 85 percent increase in its cancer burden by 2030.

"With IBM's expertise in big data and analytics, I can imagine a world in which the very latest scientifically proven means of detecting and treating cancer is available in all countries, benefitting patients wherever they are in the world," said Cary Adams, CEO of UICC, in a statement. "This information will provide unique and compelling insights on cancer, the likes of which we have not seen before."

According to the World Health Organization, more than 12 million people worldwide will be diagnosed with cancer this year, and approximately 8 million will die. Yet, Adams notes that this number is drawn from a database that is increasingly weak as the cancer burden moves, as predicted, from developed to developing countries. "Much of the world is tracking a growing burden of cancer with very incomplete information," he said. "Improving the collection of data is critical to our ability to address cancer around the world."

Collecting data about the incidence of cancer in many countries in the region is achieved through a paper-based system, which can consume hours to gather information for a single patient. All of the United States and Canada, 94 percent of Western Europe and 80 percent of Australia are covered by a cancer registry, according to leaders of the GICR initiative.

"IBM has always contributed its best assets and thinking to the world's biggest challenges, and there are few more serious than cancer," Dan Pelino, general manager of IBM Global Public Sector, said in a statement. "By helping UICC build cancer registries, we can shorten the time between discovery and treatment to save lives."

IBM joined UICC in 2012 to help the organization address the increasing data collection and analysis needs of the cancer community. IBM awarded an initial consulting grant that determined the business and technology plans required to build cancer registries. The next steps for IBM will be collaborating with the UICC and its GICR partners to plan and design the cancer registry in Sub-Saharan Africa, including the services, hardware, software, technical support and expertise to support the plan.

"Improved cancer registry data will reveal the population-based trends that are so important in shaping and adapting a cancer strategy," Dr. Isaac Adewohle, a gynecologist in Nigeria and president of the African Organization for the Research & Training in Cancer, said in a statement. "This will inform my daily practice in ways that my hospital data alone cannot."

IBM has a history in teaming up with clinicians, researchers and public health organizations to help fight cancer through big data, cloud, analytics and other technologies. For example, IBM's Watson cognitive computing technology is advancing evidence-based treatment and research with Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and MD Anderson Cancer Center.

IBM Research recently developed a microfluidic probe with a Swiss hospital to enhance cancer diagnosis, and nanotechnology to improve the treatment of breast cancer with the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology. IBM's World Community Grid provides free computational power to speed up cancer research as part of the Help Conquer Cancer project. And in collaboration with the Kenyan government, IBM has developed a plan to promote cervical cancer screening.