New supercomputer speeds cancer genome analysis to seconds

The launch of a new genomic supercomputing platform that can speed cancer genome analysis from months to seconds is the result of a collaboration announced this week between NantHealth, a health technology company founded by billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong, and several other well-known companies, including Blue Shield of California, Verizon, Bank of America, AT&T, Intel and Hewlett-Packard.

The platform, which Soon-Shiong touted today at Bipartisan Policy Center gathering in Washington, D.C., analyzed more than 6,000 cancer genomes from more than 3,000 patients with 19 different cancer types in a total time span of 69 hours--or, one patient analysis every 47 seconds. Typically, according to the announcement, genomic analysis takes roughly eight to 10 weeks to complete.

"We can't reduce the cost of care and improve outcomes in cancer if we don't have the capability to know the right treatment for the right patient before treatment begins," Soon-Shiong said in a statement. "We needed a national supercomputing infrastructure that brings genomic medicine into clinical practice. By placing supercomputers in the hands of physicians, that need is now a reality."

According to Soon-Shiong, incorrect recommendations by doctors who used the platform fell from 32 percent to nearly zero. He added that in the last year alone, more than 2,000 oncology practices representing more than 8,000 oncologists and nurses have installed and used the platform.

NantHealth and Blue Shield of California also announced this week a collaboration to develop and implement a technology system that will enable both providers and health plans to deliver coordinated and personalized evidenced-based care. Santa Monica, Calif.-based Saint John's Health Center will serve as the site for the first "continuous learning center," which will spread personalized medicine to more providers.

"Our first responsibility should always be to the health of our patients," Saint John's CEO Lou Lazatin said in a statement. "This new program will help bridge the gaps in care so we can" keep them out of the hospital.

Blue Shield wants to expand the initiative across California, according to an article in the Los Angeles Times. Paul Markovich, president and chief operating officer of the insurance company, told the Times that such efforts could "truly transform healthcare."

"There is a lot of what I describe as informed trial and error when it comes to treatment now," Markovich said.

To learn more:
- here's the NantHealth announcement
- check out the Blue Shield announcement
- read the Times article

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