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How data can help defeat cancer

double helix of the DNA in blue background


A new $50 million research collaboration will combine genomic data and IBM Watson’s cognitive computing systems to discover why cancer becomes resistant to drugs.

While a number of drugs can initially tackle some cancers quite effectively they are too often overcome in the end by mutations capable of combatting their efficacy.

This new partnership project between IBM and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard aims to overcome this by studying thousands of drug resistant tumours and tapping into Watson’s ‘computational and machine learning methods’ to discover why they become resistant.

“Defeating cancer involves playing a high-stakes game of biological chess. When we make a move with a therapy, cancer often responds with a counter-move by finding a way to become resistant. The key will be learning from clinical experience, so that we know cancer’s moves in advance and can plan strategies to cut off its escape routes,” said Eric Lander, founding director of the Broad Institute. “Knowing how cancers can become resistant will ultimately require learning from hundreds of thousands of patients’ experiences. We’re proud to work with IBM to make an important start toward this goal, and to make the information broadly available to the scientific community.”

John Kelly III, senior vice president, Cognitive Solutions and IBM Research added: “The Broad Institute is leading the industry in areas of cancer biology, genomics and computational biology, and we are proud to bring Watson’s data prowess to help researchers learn more about one of most important medical challenges that too often stands in the way of effective cancer treatment. Watson is already being used in the clinic to aid clinicians in cancer care. Our hope is that this effort, if successful, could eventually lead to significant breakthroughs. Someday, patients who would not otherwise have options in their battle against cancer may have reason for hope.”

The data will be made available to researchers in the scientific community worldwide.

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