Lenovo spin-off joins Chinese hospitals to improve cancer survival rates with help of AI

Trusted mainland Chinese companies are now working with hospitals to collect a vast trove of genetic and health data aimed at saving lives

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 January, 2018, 6:29am
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 January, 2018, 11:09am

A Hong Kong-listed spin-off of computer giant Lenovo Group said it has teamed up with some of China’s best cancer treatment organisations to boost the country’s low tumour survival rate by collecting patients’ medical records for big data analysis using artificial intelligence.

Digital China Holdings, commonly known as DC Holdings, is working with the Beijing-based Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences and the National Cancer Centre to develop the largest nationwide oncologic data centre and big data platform to analyse tumour cases from 30 provincial hospitals, 174 city-level hospitals as well as 1,000 specialised tumour clinics across the country.

The patient information is exclusive to the company as it was on a “national mission” to help raise the odds of curing malignant tumours, Guo Wei, chairman of DC Holdings, said in an interview in Guangzhou.

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The central government has made the precision medical field a focus of its 13th five-year plan, and Chinese companies have been embarking on ambitious efforts to collect a vast trove of genetic and health data and number crunching that into consumer technologies aimed at saving lives.

However, this benefit comes at the expense of privacy and raises questions of whether confidential medical records will be shared with other parties such as insurance companies that could then refuse to cover certain patients.

Unlike many developed nations where individual medical records are considered confidential and their disclosure has raised concerns, Beijing is encouraging medical institutions to work with trusted companies to boost big data applications in health care and clinical research.

If we can help lift the cure rate to about 40 per cent in 10 years, it should be considered a rather huge achievement
Guo Wei, chairman of DC Holdings

Due to less effective screening technology and poor levels of early diagnosis, cancer is the No 1 cause of deaths among mainland Chinese residents, regardless of whether they live in cities or rural areas. The deadly disease is also a huge financial burden on Chinese families as only a small proportion of the population can afford insurance policies that cover the huge costs of cancer treatment.

The survival rate for malignant tumours in China is only about 30 per cent, lower than the global average of 50 per cent and substantially behind the 70 per cent success rate in many developed countries, according to Guo.

“Enhancing tumour treatment skills will be a long process. If we can help lift the cure rate to about 40 per cent in 10 years it should be considered a rather huge achievement,” Guo said.

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Research firm IDC has predicted that the volume of global health care data will increase 48 per cent annually through 2020, with health care data generated in China accounting for about 22 per cent of that.

With a population of 1.38 billion people, more than 1 billion of whom own smartphones and 750 million are internet users, companies are able to collect massive amounts of data from consumers and use it for big data analysis. Lu Qi, Baidu’s vice-chairman and chief operating officer, said at CES in Las Vegas last week that he believes the country’s population and strong government support are the key factors that will enable China to catch up to the US in the race to develop artificial intelligence.

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DC Holdings was established in 2000 as a spin-off from Legend Group, subsequently renamed Lenovo Group. Since then the company has transitioned from a traditional IT service provider to a big data specialist using artificial intelligence to provide smart city solutions, including digitalisation of government operations and smart medical initiatives.

Last week DC Holdings teamed up with Guangzhou City Construction Investment Group to launch a smart city planning institute which includes working with local hospitals to improve health care, according to the company.