“We developed a web based prototype of MD Anderson’s [MD Anderson is in Houston TX] Oncology Expert Advisor (OEA), a cognitive clinical decision support tool powered by IBM Watson. The Watson technology is IBM’s third generation cognitive computing system.... OEA is able to generate dynamic patient case summary by interpreting structured and unstructured clinical data and suggest personalized treatment options with reasonably high accuracy. Live system evaluation of OEA is ongoing and application of OEA in clinical practice is expected to be piloted at our institution.”
Less than 3 years later, a blistering audit by the state of Texas on the system states that $62 million was spent and there is nothing to show for it (2). I quote from the audit:
“Through August 31, 2016, approximately $62.1 million has been paid to external firms for planning, project management, and development of OEA. More than half of the funding used towards the system came from restricted gifts donated or pledged specifically for this purpose. This total reflects payments to external entities only; it does not include internal resources such as staff time, technology infrastructure, or administrative support. OEA has not been updated to integrate with MD Anderson’s new electronic medical records system, and is not in clinical use.”
According to Fierce Biotech reporting (3):
“The audit found that, as of Aug. 31 last year, MD Anderson paid out more than $62 million to external firms—namely, IBM and PricewaterhouseCoopers [PWC], which made a business plan for the product—but had no product to show for it.”
That’s right: Texas paid over $62 million to IBM and PWC and got zilch for for this so-called 'precision medicine' project. But maybe Texas isn’t too concerned about it because a Forbes article (4) indicates that the Washington Post (WaPo) reported that entrepreneur Lo Taek Jho forked over most of the cash. Apparently the guy is under investigation by the Department of Justice. The Texas audit does however point out that the $62 million does NOT include all the infrastructure, staff and administrative support costs for the failed project. Will Texas ask IBM and PWC for a refund?
As is its wont, the WaPo had a glowing article on the OEA in 2015 (5), replete with cool color optics, glowing reports from ‘oncologists in training,’ and a detailed history of how Watson, IBM’s supercomputer behind OEA, was going to change the world.
This is what ‘Precision Medicine’ is getting for us? What a great scam! Instead of spending over 60 million smackers on patient care, you know, common-sense stuff like making sure terminal cancer patients are sufficiently medicated to ease suffering, making sure they are properly channeled to reputable hospice organizations to help them and their families with a devastating illness, Texas (and apparently Mr Jho) poured all of that money into IBM and PWC. No doubt, the executives of those outfits like what they got out of the deal. Even more amazing, as the Forbes article (4) points out, instead of IBM paying MD Anderson to test their product, MD Anderson (or Mr Jho) paid IBM. Nice!
IBM meanwhile is capitalizing on its magnificent Watson system by moving on to other things, interestingly unrelated to oncology. According to the Fierce Biotech article (3) IBM has unleashed Watson on 'Clinical Imaging Review.' In the good old days, ‘imaging’ used to be called ‘radiology,’ but ‘imaging’ is now the accepted word. Talk about nondescript! IBM is also moving into ‘population health’ with the Central New York Care Collaborative. With another outfit called Atrius Health they are getting into ‘shared decision making’ between doctors and patients. So many cool buzzwords: ‘shared decision making,’ ‘population health,’ ‘imaging.’ I can feel the cash flow now!
I wonder how many millions these additional IBM targets will contribute to the coffers.
I continue to be amazed at where fabulous ‘Precision Medicine’ is taking us.
1. Takahashi K et al. J Clin Oncol 32:5s, 2014 (suppl; abstr 6506)
2. The University of Texas System Administration. Special Review of Procurement Procedures Related to the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center Oncology Expert Advisor Project