The Big Data Buzz

Mike Hennessy
Published: Wednesday, Jan 18, 2017
Mike Hennessy

OncLive Chairman,
Mike Hennessy

The term Big Data has quickly become a buzzword in the oncology field and, as a result, its meaning is getting blurry. As Pulitzer Prize-winning oncologist Siddhartha Mukherjee described it in a recent OncLive interview, Big Data means “the very deep annotation of patients, their individual cancers, the genetic components of their cancers, and how these cancers are behaving over time.”

The power of that ability to analyze cancers over broad populations has generated much excitement in the drug development arena and it’s not hard to understand the reasons. In “Big Hopes for Big Data,” our cover story in this issue of OncologyLive, leading researchers discuss the real-world implications for putting this concept into action.

Perhaps the best example so far is the rapid growth of the American Society of Clinical Oncology‘s CancerLinQ initiative. In just 4 years, CancerLinQ has grown from a prototype to a database with information on more than 1 million patients and the participation of more than 1500 oncologists.

The possibilities for using such a remarkable tool to improve patient care are endless. The data could be mined for patterns of responses to therapy, incidences of adverse events, and targets for new and existing drugs—just to name a few potential uses.

Imagine the same power on an even grander scale as envisioned by the Cancer Moonshot initiative: the building of a nationwide pool of data. If the federal government can appropriately safeguard patient privacy, we may be able to unlock many of the genomic secrets of cancer.

It is important to remember, of course, that the promise of Big Data still resides in the realm of possibility. As a cautionary tale, we might want to remember that it wasn’t that long ago that excitement ran amok about the sequencing of the human genome. The outsized expectations for the benefits of genome sequencing eventually soured the public view of what truly was a remarkable achievement.

This time, the oncology field has an opportunity to lead the way again. Judging by how this effort is shaping up so far, we are quite optimistic.

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