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SAP at Davos: Conquering Cancer

January 21, 2016 by Paul Taylor 185

At the World Economic Forum in Davos, SAP CEO Bill McDermott joined leading cancer researchers in a round table discussion chaired by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden to outline the next steps needed to defeat cancer.

It’s Personal

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, SAP CEO Bill McDermott, and most of the other 2,500 other political, science, and business leaders attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland this week have direct or indirect experience of cancer.

Biden’s son Beau died in May last year after a five-year battle with brain cancer. McDermott lost his mother to cancer and his wife Julie is a breast cancer survivor. Most people have a friend or relative who has battled the disease.

Yesterday in Davos, McDermott joined leading international cancer researchers in a round table discussion hosted by the Vice President designed to identify the next steps needed to defeat cancer once and for all.

Data Holds the Key

In particular, the panel highlighted the need to develop common data standards in medicine, use advanced Big Data analytics to identify better treatment plans and improve patient care, and share the results of Big Data-driven medical research and analytics with all those battling the disease.

Fighting cancer is fundamentally a data challenge.

For SAP, whose defining goal is to help the world run better and improve people’s lives, the Vice President’s campaign is a natural fit. It provides a unique opportunity to demonstrate the power of SAP HANA in-memory computing, Big Data analytics and data-based personalized medicine to improve peoples’ lives.

It also highlights the work SAP has already done in Germany, the U.S., and elsewhere to help battle cancer. The Vice President cited the CancerLinq health information platform that SAP has co-developed with the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) that aggregates real-world patient care data from millions of electronic health records enabling doctors to deliver personalized care to cancer patients.

The Challenge

Cancers figure among the leading causes of morbidity and mortality worldwide, with approximately 14 million new cases and 8.2 million cancer related deaths in 2012, according to the World Health Organization. But the numbers tell just one dimension of the story.

As McDermott has noted, for all who have known a cancer victim or survivor, this is a personal battle and our determination to defeat cancer underscores our common humanity.

It was this sentiment that fuelled the Vice President’s call for a “moonshot” for a cure when he announced in October that he wouldn’t run for president in 2016. President Barack Obama embraced the mission and the Apollo moonshot metaphor during his State of the Union Address to Congress last week.

Biden has said he will devote the rest of his life to this mission and while medical experts have cautioned that defeating cancer will still take time, the Vice President has vowed to double the rate of progress and to make a decade worth of advances in five years. ”We are looking for quantum advances,” he said.

Later this month Biden will hold the “first of several meetings” with U.S. Cabinet heads and agency officials to discuss how the US federal government can play a bigger role. But yesterday in Davos his focus was on listening to suggestions from his panel of experts for speeding up the pace of cancer research.

Inflexion Point

Biden noted that thanks to significant advances in recent years in fields like genomics, molecular medicine and immunotherapy, the battle against cancer “has reached an inflexion point.” But he also emphasized that defeating cancer would require a “multiple disciplinary approach” and the breaking down of information “silos.” This would enable medical professionals to tap into insights gleaned from data sets, no matter where they physically reside, he said.

The Vice President said companies in the IT and pharmaceutical industries must be involved in the battle to defeat cancer, alongside medical researchers and government agencies. In particular, he said technology companies adept at supercomputing and processing big data have a key role to play.

SAP’s Role

McDermott acknowledged this responsibility, noting that SAP HANA is already playing a key role medical Big Data analytics and that fighting cancer is fundamentally a data challenge.

For example, as the cost of DNA sequencing has fallen, more cancer patients are having their genomes sequenced. Meanwhile medical researchers are using SAP HANA to speed up the analysis of the resulting large-scale genome data sets, reducing the time it takes to turn data into actionable insights that may lead to cures.

Making Healthcare Personal Again

In addition, McDermott told Vice President Biden that SAP technology has a key role to play in facilitating personalized medicine and in refocusing treatment on the individual patient.

For example, SAP solutions allow medical professionals to integrate disparate data sets including biomedical data, data from electronic health records (EHR), and clinical trial data. Medical professionals use the data to identify trends in treatment, new treatment paths, and insights into potential cures for cancer sufferers.

For cancer patients, survivors, families and friends, this is indeed personal.


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