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The Importance of Using AI and Real World Data in Cancer Care with Corey Zankowski


In this episode of the Real World Talk podcast, Nick Ritter talks to Corey Zankowski, the senior vice president of oncology software solutions at Varian Medical Systems. The first part of the conversation is dedicated to trends in the oncology community. Corey says the need for cancer care is expanding into emerging markets. The guest also notices the movement towards multidisciplinary care.


  • [00:45] Introduction — Nick Ritter introduces Corey Zankowski, the senior vice president of oncology software solutions at Varian Medical Systems. Corey gives an overview of Varian and talks about solutions the company is working on today.
  • [02:38] Dominant trends in oncology — ”Care is expanding,” the quest notices. That’s the first trend, and the second one is a movement to more multidisciplinary care.
  • [04:58] The impact of COVID-19 — At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Varian worked on enabling remote functioning, including telemedicine, which allowed clinicians or care providers to communicate with patients remotely.
  • [07:59] Value-based care — ”In the United States, cost-effective care is extremely important right now.” While the US is going through the transition towards value-based care, the rest of the world is almost there.
  • [09:23] Varian’s global reach and value-based care in the US — Success in delivering cost-effective Western-quality care in extremely cash-constrained environments shows it is possible to establish the same model in the United States.
  • [11:03] Rural data play a significant role in Varian’s strategy — Rural data can answer specific decision points along the care process and help clinicians make those decisions.
  • [13:45] AI (artificial intelligence) and cancer care — AI is already in use. Among many things, Varian uses it to do segmentation, meaning to look at medical images and identify organs at risk or tumors.
  • [16:49] Are there better opportunities to leverage AI? — The answer is yes. In the case of data, the work is required in natural language processing and converting unstructured data into structured data.
  • [19:18] Value-based care and real-world data — Collecting real-world evidence is a perfect way of understanding what’s happening with patients and how effective treatments are.
  • [23:48] Variability as a measure of quality — While talking about the definition of value, Corey says if you can reduce variability, you increase quality. He also explains the process of decreasing the variability through standardization.
    [28:06] The Collaboration between COTA and Varian — Corey sees the partnership with COTA as fruitful. Varian can collect data, and COTA can process and analyze them. The goal is to bring them back into the system to improve the quality of care.

Key Points

  • Trends within the oncology community. Corey notices two trends within the oncology community. The first one is the expansion of care. As Zankowski states, the need for cancer care is moving into emerging markets, and governments are willing to invest in it globally. Another trend is a movement towards more multidisciplinary care. ”We see many more institutions around the world, establishing multidisciplinary tumor boards and multidisciplinary care teams to try to coordinate care for that patient throughout their journey.”
  • Rural data plays a significant role in Varian’s strategy. ”There’s a whole waterfront of areas where real-world evidence can be used in our strategy,” says Corey. Varian uses data to answer specific decision points along the care process, supporting clinicians in making those decisions. Looking at real-world data gives an a-scale view of patients’ conditions. Although they may not influence clinical decisions in the short-term, real-world data could help establish the best treatment policies and protocols in the long-term, Corey explains.
  • Varian uses AI to do segmentation. The two discuss the usage of artificial intelligence in cancer care. Corey says they are already using it to look at medical images and identify organs at risk or tumors. ”The AI has made it possible to adopt treatments on the couch during a 15 or 20-minute time slot. That’s the kind of thing that had to be done overnight, typically, but now, we’re able to do that in just a few minutes. “