IBM, Mayo Clinic Tap Watson to Boost Cancer Trial Research

IBM and the Mayo Clinic extended an ongoing relationship, this time using Watson to help match cancer patients with appropriate clinical trials.

IBM big data

IBM and the Mayo Clinic announced plans to use IBM’s Watson cognitive computing system to match patients more quickly with appropriate clinical trials, beginning with research studies in cancer.
According to IBM, enrolling patients in trials is one of the more difficult parts of clinical research. It has long been done manually, with clinical coordinators sorting through patient records and conditions, trying to match them with the requirements of a given experimental protocol.

At any given time, Mayo Clinic is conducting more than 8,000 human studies in addition to the 170,000 that are ongoing worldwide, Sean Hogan, IBM's vice president of Healthcare, told eWEEK. Watson’s cognitive computing ability will help sift through all available clinical trials and ensure that more patients are accurately and consistently matched with promising and appropriate clinical trial options, he said.

“In an area like cancer, where time is of the essence, the speed and accuracy that Watson offers will allow us to develop an individualized treatment plan more efficiently so we can deliver exactly the care that the patient needs,” said Dr. Steven Alberts, chair of medical oncology at Mayo Clinic, in a statement. Researchers hope the increased speed will also speed new discoveries.
This version of Watson will be especially designed to work for and at Mayo Clinic. As it progresses in its tasks and matures through this collaboration, it will learn more about the clinical trials matching process, become even more efficient, and likely more generalizable. Watson may also help locate patients for hard to fill trials, such as those involving rare diseases.
“With shorter times from initiation to completion of trials, our research teams will have the capacity for deeper, more complete investigations,” said Dr. Nicholas LaRusso, a Mayo Clinic gastroenterologist and the project lead for the Mayo-IBM Watson collaboration, in a statement. “Coupled with increased accuracy, we will be able to develop, refine and improve new and better techniques in medicine at a higher level.”
Many clinical trials at Mayo Clinic and elsewhere are not completed due to lack of sufficient enrollment. Enrollment in general could be increased by the Watson project. In spite of well-organized efforts, even at Mayo Clinic just five percent of patients take part in studies. Nationally, the rate is even lower at three percent. Mayo hopes to raise clinical trial involvement to include up to 10 percent of its patients, IBM said. Researchers say the higher participation should also improve the quality of research outcomes.
“Ultimately, we believe Watson will help advance scientific discoveries into promising new forms of care that clinicians can use to treat all patients,” said Mike Rhodin, senior vice president of the IBM Watson Group, in a statement. “Through this effort, Mayo Clinic can consistently offer more medical options to patients and conclude clinical trials faster.”
Clinicians and clinical trial coordinators at Mayo Clinic will begin using Watson as a patient enrollment tool in early 2015. To ensure Watson has the required expertise to assist with clinical trial matching, Mayo experts are working with IBM to feed Watson’s corpus of knowledge with all clinical trials at the Mayo Clinic and in public databases, such as The new Watson system is being trained to analyze patient records and clinical trial criteria in order to determine appropriate matches for patients.

“This is a really big deal for both IBM and the Mayo Clinic,” IBM’s Hogan said. “They’ve been a client for a number of decades–going back to the flesh-and-blood Watson who ran IBM and valued the clinic as a client. This could be a breakthrough in terms of matching patients with appropriate trials because when you are diagnosed with cancer it’s often a race against time.”

Watson is currently in use helping to fight cancer in different ways at other hospitals including Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, The Maine Center for Cancer Medicine and WESTMED Medical Group and the Cleveland Clinic, among others.

Mayo and IBM are discussing other applications for Watson in the future, Hogan said.