Silicon Valley has stepped into the fight against cancer as part of former US Vice President Joe Biden’s “moonshot” initiative to put an end to the disease as we know it.
In an update delivered on the eve of Davos 2017, Biden explained how a combination of better collaboration and promising new techniques meant we were at an “inflexion point” in the fight against cancer.
“We got a call from IBM: How would you like to borrow Watson?” Biden said, referring to the supercomputer which uses machine learning to improve its responses to questions.
Famous for trouncing human contestants in the quiz game Jeopardy! In 2011, Watson is now serving a more serious purpose: searching for the best therapies for cancer patients based on their genome sequences, in a collaboration with the Walter Reed military hospital.
This is just one example of what Biden calls a “culture change” to tear through silos in the fight against a disease which kills 16 million people a year around the world.
“Amazon came along and said look, we’ll add cloud computing,” continued Biden. He said the company stored enormous amounts of cancer data, with open access making it available to any scientist in the world.
In a similar vein, a group of young tech specialists from Silicon Valley built a web platform, trials.cancer.gov, to allow people with cancer to register for clinical trials. Currently, only 5% of cancer patients have access to trials, which in some cases represent their last hope of finding a treatment. At the same time, pharmaceutical companies struggle to find participants.
With a new president now in office, Biden said that he had already informed Vice President Mike Pence of his willingness to continue to work with him and the incoming administration. Biden, who lost his son to cancer, said he would also launch his own initiative to continue the work of the Moonshot programme.
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For more, watch a special address by Joe Biden here.