In India, IBM’s Watson Will Aid Cancer Care Where Doctors Are Scarce

IBM IBM -1.44% and a large hospital system in India have partnered to diagnose and treat cancer care in a country of 1.2 billion residents who often cannot access oncologists, leaving their diseases undetected and untreated.

IBM’s Watson artificial intelligence system will be used by Manipal Hospitals’ 16 health facilities and affiliated academic centers, where more than 200,00 patients are treated for cancer each year. IBM Watson will help Manipal doctors quickly come up with personalized treatment options from a database that includes the latest medical information from “15 million pages of medical content, including more than 200 medical textbooks and 300 medical journals,” IBM said in announcing the deal in Bangalore.

“You have physicians already pressed for time — nowhere more so than in India — and they don’t have the capacity to read all of these innovations in medicine,” Rob Merkel, vice president of IBM Watson Health said in a phone interview from India.

What takes a team of cancer doctors and oncology experts hours or even days today under normally busy conditions can instead be accomplished in a few minutes from a handheld device like an iPad, Merkel said. Physicians in India will be able to “apply this sea of knowledge” that exists for specific patients’ needs in a timely basis, Merkel added.

At the Forbes Healthcare Summit Thursday in New York, Deborah DiSanzo, general manager of IBM Watson Health is expected to elaborate on the India deal.

IBM’s “Watson for Oncology” was developed with oncology experts from Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. By deploying their system in India, those involved hope it will speed diagnosis and treatment and enable physicians to reduce waits and reach more in the medically-underserved country.

There are 1 million new cancer cases diagnosed annually in India where the ratio of oncologists to cancer patients is 1 to 1,600. By comparison, there is one oncologist for every cancer patient in the U.S., IBM Watson said.

“We are desperately short on doctors,” Dr. Ajay Bakshi, chief executive officer of Manipal Hospitals said in an interview. “This will ensure my patients are getting the best possible care.”

Financial terms of the deal between IBM Watson and Manipal weren’t disclosed. Manipal will pay for IBM Watson’s services, which Bakshi and Merkel said will go live in the first half of next year and eventually include affiliated hospitals and health facilities outside of the Manipal system.

For IBM, the India deal is significant given the size of the country and further establishes the company as a healthcare player. Earlier this year, IBM Watson announced a partnership with CVS Health CVS -1.01%, device maker Medtronic MDT +0.00%, Johnson & Johnson JNJ +0.00% and Apple AAPL +2.28% to link healthcare companies to the new cloud-based architecture.

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