Microsoft partners with Fred Hutch to tackle chemotherapy side effects using new AI tech


Dr. Scott Ramsey, director of the Hutchinson Institute for Cancer Outcomes Research, at the fifth annual Value in Cancer Care Summit. Photo via Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

For many cancer patients, living with the brutal side effects of chemotherapy is a daily struggle. More than half of cancer patients in Washington state actually end up in the emergency room because of the side effects, expensive visits that push the already high cost of cancer care even higher.

The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and tech giant Microsoft are hoping to lower that number. They’ve unveiled a new pilot program that will leverage Microsoft’s artificial intelligence technology and Fred Hutch’s clinical and data science expertise.

The partners will work together to build a new technology platform that aims to head off side effects before they become bad enough to warrant an emergency room visit, improving patient health and lowering healthcare costs in the process. They hope to do that through monitoring patients more closely and responding to side effects more quickly.

Peter Lee, the corporate vice president for Microsoft Research and AI, said the ultimate goal of the program will be “better predicting distressing episodes and enabling clinical intervention before complications become emergencies,” according to a Fred Hutch news release.

Of course, Microsoft already has close ties to Fred Hutch, since Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella joined the Seattle non-profit’s board in 2016.

The partnership is the latest in Microsoft’s endeavor to apply its technologies to healthcare. Since it launched its Healthcare NExT initiative last year, Lee and others at Microsoft have been working to develop strategic partnerships with those in life science and healthcare to deploy artificial intelligence and other tech.

In January, the company announced a partnership with Seattle-based Adaptive Biotechnologies that aims to map the human immune system and create an AI-fueled diagnostic that could scan a blood sample to diagnose hundreds of diseases at once. As part of a recent health-focused product push, the company also developed an AI scribe to help doctors in the clinic, alongside partner University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

Microsoft’s hands-off approach is an interesting contrast to recent healthcare pushes by other technology giants. Amazon is mulling forays into multiple healthcare verticals, including selling prescription drugs online, and just launched a new healthcare initiative with Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase.

Apple is also diving into high-profile healthcare projects, including studying the Apple Watch as a way to diagnose heart problems and launching tech-fueled clinics on its corporate campus.

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