BlackBerry Partnering With NantHealth on Cancer Genome Project

BlackBerry Passport smartphones will be used to support the project as it begins, while other smartphones will be able to be used in the work in the future.

health IT

BlackBerry Passport smartphones will be used to help connect doctors and medical researchers to huge stores of patient genetic information as part of a cancer genome project that is working to fight against the deadly disease.

The project is bringing together Passport smartphones and a secure clinical genome browser application that will give doctors unprecedented access to patients' genetic data, according to NantHealth, a medical cloud-based technology vendor that is partnering on the project with BlackBerry. The application comes from NantHealth's NatOmics division.

"The NantOmics Cancer Genome Browser platform on the BlackBerry Passport enables deep, interactive reporting on genomics data for physicians and other treatment providers in clinical settings—for example, giving oncologists a powerful view into the individual genetic alternations that make each patient's disease unique and highlighting relevant treatment options," according to the company.

Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, the founder and CEO of NantHealth, told eWEEK in a Dec. 8 telephone interview that the project, which he and BlackBerry CEO John Chen had personal discussions about, was done with BlackBerry because of its secure enterprise infrastructure following. The tight security already present in BlackBerry devices was a key to starting the mobile genome project using Passport smartphones, he said.

"It will be tied to the security systems of BlackBerry and to the cloud," said Soon-Shiong. "Ultimately it will tunnel through BlackBerry to other devices as well. We are working on that now."

The genome research application will allow doctors and medical researchers to burrow deep into the data to find more information about genetic links and cancers as they work on the genome, he said. "It allows you to go all the way down and browse through the genome," like Google Earth allows users to dive into geographic data. "It is a unique application on the BlackBerry device."

The project's application will be showcased and demonstrated early in 2015 at the Consumer Electronics Show in January in Las Vegas and at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, in March, he added. The application is expected to launch in the first quarter of 2015 to users.

And as exciting as the new tool will be, he said, this is just a start for such work and innovations. "There's lots more coming" in terms of medical partnerships between the two companies, he said.

The NantOmics Cancer Genome Browser "enables clinicians for the first time to investigate a tumor genome from the full three billion bases down to the single-base level in real-time, thanks to the power of the NantOmics supercomputing infrastructure," Soon-Shiong said in a statement. "This integrates with NantHealth's treatment recommendation engine, Eviti, to personalize treatment protocols to individual patients based on their genomic signature."

Using the BlackBerry Passport's large high-resolution display, clinicians will be able to view a patient's chromosome at an individual base-pair level, according to the companies.

"BlackBerry's partnership with NantHealth illustrates how the mobile security and collaboration technology we are known for can be reimagined to create revolutionary applications across a variety of industries," BlackBerry's Chen said in a statement. "BlackBerry technology has proven itself secure, reliable and powerful enough to be counted on in life-and-death situations. Its innovative form and functionality make BlackBerry Passport an ideal addition to a doctor's medical kit."

Operating on BlackBerry's mobile security infrastructure, the NantOmics Cancer Genome Browser is fully encrypted to allow deployment in a Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)-secured environment, enabling clinicians to securely access patient data as soon as it's available, from anywhere, according to the companies.

"BlackBerry already powers many of the diagnostic machines clinicians rely heavily upon so it makes sense to tie those devices directly to a BlackBerry smartphone," said Soon-Shiong in a statement. "NantHealth has quietly built the unique capability of placing a super-computer into the doctor's hand at point of care and in time of need. Now with BlackBerry's partnership and through the power of the cloud and secure networks, the reality is we are now able to put dozens of supercomputers, through mobile devices, into doctor's hands on a global basis. Our goal is to extend this unique capability from doctor to patient, thereby establishing patient empowered 21st century health."

The new BlackBerry Passport smartphones for enterprise users sell for $599 and include a full HD display that is 4.5 inches square, which allow 60 characters to be typed across its screen, compared with about 40 for a typical smartphone, according to BlackBerry.

In November, BlackBerry offered all iPhone users rebates of up to $550 to replace their iPhones with one of BlackBerry's new Passport smartphones. The offer is good through Feb. 13, 2015.

The company is expected to release its latest smartphone, the BlackBerry Classic, formerly known as the BlackBerry Q20, later this month.