IBM’s artificial intelligence division Watson Health is to apply its technology to cancer genetics through a partnership with US biotech Illumina.

The new partnership will see the integration of IBM’s Watson for Genomics software into Illumina’s TruSight Tumor 170 platform – software that helps match cancer patients to effective treatments based on their tumour’s genetic profile.

Watson for Genomics will analyse genetic data produced by the TruSight platform and search medical literature, clinical trial data and professional guidelines to produce suggested treatments.

Unlike the week-long timeframe it typically takes scientists to produce reports of this nature, Watson’s analysis will be completed in a matter of minutes.

“To enable precision cancer medicine on a large scale, we need new tools to overcome the data barriers of genomic research,” said Francis deSouza, President and CEO of Illumina. “With a comprehensive assay of Illumina and the power of Watson, we hope to deliver a rapid turnaround of the genomic alteration results.”

Genetic analysis platforms such as Illumina’s TruSight Tumor 170 are becoming more commonplace in cancer medicine thanks to a growing body of evidence suggesting the importance of genetics in treatment choice. Unfortunately, the analysis of data produced by these platforms can be difficult to understand and take a long time to interpret.

Artificial intelligences such as Watson offer a solution to this problem by rapidly interpreting data and identifying patterns within them, in turn matching the patterns to data from other sources.

It is a technology widely regarded as a potential game-changer in medicine. Watson specifically is now being used in various different healthcare settings, from cancer to neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s.

“This partnership lays the groundwork for more systematic study of the impact of genomics in oncology,” said Deborah DiSanzo, general manager, IBM Watson Health. “Together we are poised to help researchers realise the potential of precision oncology by expanding access to valuable genome sequencing from Illumina and reliable, standardised genomic interpretation from Watson.”

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