My worst nightmare is that someone I love will battle cancer at some point in their lifetime. Witnessing two grandparents fall to the disease, I know firsthand that cancer is extremely complex and completely unpredictable. While we know that some behaviors like smoking cigarettes, neglecting to wear sunblock, and eating chemically processed foods can increase our chances of being diagnosed with cancer, there is no sure-fire way of preventing the disease from attacking our bodies. A nonsmoker isn’t immune to lung cancer, just as a person who never stepped foot in a tanning salon may still be diagnosed with melanoma. It’s a game of chance, and the innovators at the German National Center for Tumor Diseases (NCT) and SAP aren’t willing to leave this battle up to fate.
By 2035, it’s estimated that 22 million people will have cancer and the disease will account for 13 million deaths worldwide (Source: World Health Organization). In addition, the cost of developing treatment is rising, the number of new cancer drugs is declining, and the drugs currently available are only effective in about one fourth of treatments.
Why is cancer so deadly and difficult to cure? Because almost every instance of cancer is unique, and each individual occurrence responds differently to treatment. There is no exact way of knowing which treatments will work for a specific patient. Therapies are administered to patients based on a doctor’s past experience and by manually reviewing, parsing, and consolidating the relevant information, typically in spreadsheets. Such manual processes can cause significant delays for patients waiting for care, and for a cancer patient, time is vital; they can’t afford to wait.
NCT’s goal is to administer specialized treatment suited to a patient’s specific molecular profile as quickly as possible. NCT focuses on cancer research as well as patient treatment. In just one year, NCT touches:
- 10,000 patients
- 15,000 courses of treatment
- 50,000 appointments
This means that a single patient can have up to 1,200 pieces of data in their record. In total, NCT must manage up to 150,000 data sets and 3.6 million data points, a process that, if done manually, could take weeks. However, the analysis can be done in real time using the center’s Patient Data Explorer tool supported by the SAP HANA platform. Thanks to the power of in-memory computing, NCT can significantly accelerate the development of individual, highly adjusted cancer therapies.
Beating Breast Cancer: Listen to how NCT is helping one woman win the battle over breast cancer by providing her the right medication to fight her disease.
Thanks to Patient Data Explorer, patient data from different sources such as clinical information systems, tumor registries, biobank systems, and even text documents (like physicians’ notes) can be accessed, analyzed, and put into actionable context in minutes rather than days. In addition, the tool offers a comprehensive overview of each individual patient’s medical history in a graphical timeline, making it easy to access information with any level of detail. Before implementing SAP HANA, NCT was only able to assess the effectiveness of a new treatment on 5-10% of patients due to limited staff and capacity. Now with Patient Data Explorer, NCT can significantly increase the number of patients with access to new treatment methods.
“We are now able to extract and analyze data from various sources and present it to physicians and researchers in a way that enables surprising new insights,” says Professor Dr. Christof von Kalle, Director of the Department of Translational Oncology, as he explains the importance of continued research and collaboration with SAP HANA to analyze huge amounts of data in real time. “In the future, we would like to use the SAP HANA platform for every diagnostic and therapeutic step, because every cancer is different and can vary immensely from one patient to the next.”
Unfortunately cancer isn’t going to miraculously disappear. But with leading innovators like NCT teaming with SAP, we are creating technologies that will help find new treatments and determine the most effective existing ones. By quickly providing patients with specialized treatment, we are combating this ugly disease harder than ever. Knowing that such in-depth scientific progress has been made and continues, I have much confidence that we will someday be able to save all the moms, dads, grandparents, children, and babies in the world who are diagnosed with cancer.
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This post was originally published on SCN in SAP Business Trends.