HUG to become first university hospital using IBM’s AI tool to personalise cancer treatment

IBM Watson for Genomics will empower oncologists in Geneva to come up with better-informed diagnoses faster.
By Cornelia Wels-Maug
10:21 AM

IBM Watson Health announced yesterday at the Intelligent Health 2019 summit on AI in Basel that it has signed a partnership with the university hospital in Geneva (Hôpitaux universitaires de Genève, HUG) to implement and use IBM’s Watson for Genomics, making it the first university hospital in Switzerland and Europe to use the tool.

IBM Watson for Genomics will empower oncologists in Geneva to come up with better-informed diagnoses faster. Deploying information extracted from peer-reviewed articles and validated by experts, the solution generates a report for clinicians that matches genetic alterations in a patient’s tumour with the most relevant therapies and clinical trials.


Medical knowledge grows exponentially. In 1950, it took about 50 years for it to double, and there are estimates reckoning that by 2020 this will have come down to three months. This makes it impossible for clinicians to stay on top of current research. IBM’s AI tool, however, enables clinicians at HUG to quickly interpret massive bodies of genomic data for various cancer types and provide more personalised cancer care to improve patient outcomes.

Initially, HUG will be using it only for the most complex cancer patients, but based on an evaluation of its benefits after a year’s period, it might extend the spectrum of cancer patients.

Before deployment in Europe, the solution had been used in North America and Asia for some years. According to IBM, Watson for Genomics increased the identification of actionable mutations that had not been recognised via manual analysis in 33% of patients in a hospital in South Korea.


The potential to support patients, clinicians and hospitals with AI-based decision support systems is immense. In 2018, there were almost 18.1 million newly diagnosed cancer cases worldwide, with 3.9 million cases in Europe. As the number of new incidents has been continuously on the rise, mainly because of demographic changes, cancer will remain a major burden on health systems which requires innovative ways to cope.


Mark O’Herlihy, IBM Watson Health managing director, EMEA, commented at the summit on the speed with which IBM Watson for Genomics generates clinical insights: ”We help clinicians to save time. The tool completes an analysis of a whole gene and RNA-sequencing results in ten minutes compared to what would take 160 hours manually.”

By being able to get treatments on the way faster, patients stand a higher chance of improved outcomes. “Healthcare is the management and improvement of health. ‘AI’ stands also for actionable insights. Personalised medicine delivers those insights based on which clinicians can act,” O’Herlihy added.

Want to get more stories like this one? Get daily news updates from Healthcare IT News.
Your subscription has been saved.
Something went wrong. Please try again.