IBM extends deal using Watson to support veterans with cancer

Its AI helps spot mutations that could be responsive to treatment.

IBM is making further use of Watson in the fight against cancer. The tech giant has extended a team-up with the US Department of Veterans Affairs that taps Watson for help treating soldiers with cancer, particularly stage 4 patients who have few other options. The new alliance runs through "at least" June 2019 and will continue the partnership's existing strategy. Oncologists and pathologists first sequence tumor DNA, and then use Watson's AI to interpret the data and spot mutations that might open up therapeutic choices.

The pact could do more to help health care in the US than you might think. IBM noted that Veterans Affairs treats about 3.5 percent of all American cancer patients, the largest in any one cancer group. If even a fraction of them can find viable cancer treatments through Watson, that could help a significant portion of the population.

The company also points out that "more than one-third" of VA patients in this oncology program (about 2,700 have received support so far) are rural residents who have a harder time getting access to cutting-edge treatments. To some extent, this could make specialized cancer therapy more accessible, not just more commonplace.