Bloomberg News

IBM’s Watson to Help Memorial Sloan-Kettering With Cancer

March 22, 2012

An IBM Watson super computer. Photographer: Bob Goldberg/IBM/AP Photo

An IBM Watson super computer. Photographer: Bob Goldberg/IBM/AP Photo

International Business Machines Corp. (IBM)’s Watson computer, which beat champions of the quiz show “Jeopardy!” last year and is starting to be sold to insurers and banks, is to provide help to doctors and patients on diagnosis and treatment for cancer.

Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York and IBM have agreed to collaborate on the development of a Watson-based service that will assist the hospital group’s doctors with the diagnosis of cancer and suggest treatment options by mining the most current and comprehensive information available, the two parties said in a joint statement today.

Combining Watson with Sloan-Kettering’s clinical knowledge, as well as with the latest cancer research, will make the service a “decision support tool,” Armonk, New York-based IBM and Memorial Sloan-Kettering said.

IBM says Watson’s skills -- interpreting queries in natural language, consulting vast volumes of unstructured information quickly, and answering questions with a defined level of confidence -- can be applied to many industries. It has already sold the technology to WellPoint Inc. (WLP), the U.S. insurer, and Citigroup Inc. (C), and expects to generate billions in new revenue by 2015 from putting Watson to work.

“Physicians require a lot more information to make the proper decision as we learn more about the biology of cancer,” Martin Kohn, IBM’s chief medical scientist, said in an interview. Using Watson “we have access to much more information than we could possibly accomplish by reading on our own, or even 100 people reading.”

‘Grand Challenge’

Watson is being taught oncology and being programmed with the types of questions it will be posed in a similar way to when it was trained for “Jeopardy!” Applying Watson to the field of cancer diagnosis and treatment, “given its importance on both a human and economic level, is exactly the type of grand challenge IBM Watson can help address,” Kohn said in the statement.

Sloan-Kettering and IBM are already developing the first applications using Watson related to lung, breast and prostate cancers, and aim to begin piloting the solutions to some oncologists in late 2012, with wider distribution planned for late 2013.

“The combination of transformational technologies found in Watson with our cancer analytics and decision-making process has the potential to revolutionize the accessibility of information for the treatment of cancer in communities across the country and around the world,” Sloan-Kettering Chief Executive Officer Craig B. Thompson said in the statement. “We also expect tremendous new research opportunities to emerge from this collaboration.”

Artificial Intelligence

In February 2011, about 15 million viewers watched Watson beat former “Jeopardy!” champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter -- a highly publicized victory in artificial intelligence that IBM always aimed to apply to the business world.

The supercomputer, including its work in the health-care and finance industries, will contribute “a portion” of IBM’s target of $16 billion of analytics revenue in 2015, Manoj Saxena, the man responsible for finding Watson business, said in a February interview. That portion will “have a B next to it,” Saxena said.

Watson may generate $2.65 billion in revenue in 2015, adding 52 cents of earnings per share, Ed Maguire, an analyst at CLSA in New York, estimated in a November research note.

IBM, the world’s biggest computer-services provider, reported revenue of $107 billion in 2011 and earnings of $13.06 a share. The company ended 2011 with $11.9 billion in cash.

The company’s shares rose less than 1 percent to $204.69 at the close in New York yesterday. The shares have increased by 30 percent in the past 12 months and on March 5 closed above $200 for the first time, factoring in stock splits.

To contact the reporter on this story: Beth Jinks in New York at bjinks1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Elstrom at pelstrom@bloomberg.net


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