Novartis is in the process of digitally upgrading. Since Bertrand Bodson joined the newly created post of Chief Digital Officer in January 2018, a number of projects have been launched that will take the pharmaceutical company into the new era of analyzing large amounts of data. Up to now, the necessary capacity expansion has mainly taken place in-house, or they have teamed up with small start-up companies, for example to test new instruments in the field of artificial intelligence.
Now, Novartis is embarking on a bigger leap and starting a cooperation with IT group Microsoft. The goal of the five-year collaboration is to bundle the artificial intelligence capabilities of the two companies, thereby triggering an innovation boost in the pharmaceutical business. The plan is to create an AI Innovation Lab with locations on the Novartis campus in Basel, the company’s Global Service Center in Dublin, and the Microsoft Research Lab in the UK. Bodson did not comment on the staffing levels of this new facility and the size of the planned investments. He emphasized, however, that both companies contributed funds to the project.
On the one hand, the increased technological potential should serve to accelerate the development of new drugs and their market introduction. Thanks to artificial intelligence, it is hoped that it will be possible to efficiently process the vast amounts of clinical data generated in studies or in the treatment of patients in hospitals. In this way, new interactions of substances and new therapeutic options are likely to be discovered. On the other hand, the company’s field staff should have data-driven analytical tools in their contacts with physicians and hospitals that allow them to present better therapeutic options for patients or better drug dosages.
Success is not guaranteed
The partnership between Novartis and Microsoft seems promising. Whether the potential can actually be realized is another question. It is recalled that in 2014 Basler and Internet company Google decided to develop and launch an “intelligent contact lens”. The plan was to use a lens and microchip lens that could be used for medical purposes such as diabetes treatment. The project was unsuccessful and ended at the end of 2018 sang- and soundless. The Google Novartis project is barely comparable to the Microsoft Novartis project, but shows that such cross-industry collaboration is not free of pitfalls.