On July 19th, 2018, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and IBM Watson Health announced an extension of their ongoing partnership to interpret cancer data in patients.

According to the press release, the partnership was originally announced two years ago with the goal of providing precision care for veterans. Oncologists and pathologists receive tumor samples from patients nationwide. The DNA is sequenced from these samples. Watson then interprets the genomic data and identifies relevant mutations. Once the mutations are identified, Watson suggests potential targeted treatment options. Watson accomplishes this by cross-referencing the findings against medical literature on potential and FDA approved therapies.

The partnership builds upon other genomic efforts by the VA. One such program is the VA’s Million Veteran Program. Starting in 2011, this program aimed to create a massive medical and genomic database by collecting blood samples from 1 million volunteers. The VA noted that by taking baseline and subsequent readings based on military experiences, health and lifestyles, the information contained in the database could hold the key to preventing and treating diseases.

According to press releases, the VA currently treats 3.5% of the United State’s cancer patients. This makes the VA the largest health care provider treating cancer in the United States. According to the National Cancer Institute, in 2018, an estimated 1,735,350 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in the United States.

In its press release, Dr. Kyu Rhee, 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 the 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.”