VA extends cancer initiative with IBM to leverage Watson

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The Department of Veterans Affairs and IBM have extended their public-private partnership for another year.

The agreement will enable VA oncologists to continue using IBM’s Watson for Genomics for the identification of cancer-causing mutations and treatment options.

During the past two years, the VA’s precision oncology program—which primarily supports stage 4 cancer patients who have exhausted other treatment options—has leveraged the Watson for Genomics artificial intelligence technology under the National Cancer Moonshot Initiative to provide care for more than 2,700 veterans. The extension of the partnership will run through at least June 2019.

“VA is leading the nation to scale and spread the delivery of high quality precision oncology care, one veteran at a time,” said Kyu Rhee, MD, chief health officer for IBM Watson Health. “It is incredibly challenging to read, understand and stay up-to-date with the breadth and depth of medical literature and link them to relevant mutations for personalized cancer treatments. This is where AI can play an important role in helping to scale precision oncology, as demonstrated in our work with VA, the largest integrated health system in the U.S.”

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At a central “hub” facility in Durham, N.C., a small group of VA oncologists and pathologists take tumor samples from patients nationwide and sequence the DNA, which they then use Watson for Genomics to help interpret the genomic data to identify mutations and potential treatment options.

According to the VA, it treats 3.5 percent of America’s cancer patients—more than any single healthcare organization group—and more than one-third of the patients who have benefited from the VA’s precision oncology program are veterans from rural areas.

“Our mission with VA’s precision oncology program is to bring the most advanced treatment opportunities to veterans, in hopes of giving our nation’s heroes better treatments through these breakthroughs,” said Acting VA Secretary Peter O’Rourke. “We look forward to continuing this strategic partnership to assist VA in providing the best care for our veterans.”

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