Novartis enlists Microsoft to modernize drugs' path to market

Novartis’ new collaboration with Microsoft leverages artificial intelligence to streamline drug discovery, but the joint effort goes beyond just finding new treatments faster.

From research and manufacturing to clinical trials and marketing, Microsoft’s AI technology will impact Novartis’ entire medicine path to market. Everyone, even those without data science training, will be able to use the solutions to cull Novartis data troves.

“There’s value for every person in the organization to share data, to connect to each other, beyond the research and discovery to manufacturing, even to marketing,” Peter Lee, Microsoft's corporate vice president for AI and research, said in an intro video.

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The way Novartis sees it, the company is on a path to becoming a “data science company,” Shahram Ebadollahi, Novartis' global head of data science, said by email. And the Microsoft deal figures importantly into that corporate mission. After all, what better way to drive substantial change—and get a jump on competing pharma companies also trying to figure out how to use their reams of health data—than to partner with the original vanguard of tech companies?

The two companies had worked together previously and went through many months of exploration before announcing the deal, Ebadollahi said. It is a “true 50-50 collaboration,” he added.

Novartis is not new to the use of AI, but this collaboration expands beyond previous efforts. Along with revamp of the drug discovery process, for instance, Novartis will use Microsoft AI to review the clinical data from hundreds of its drug studies over the past two decades. The project, called Data42, will mine 2 million patient years of clinical trial data to attempt to uncover new insights, Ebadollahi said.

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“The synergy between Novartis’ global leadership in innovative medicines and Microsoft’s leadership position in Cloud and AI will help us deliver a fundamental transformation in healthcare,” he said. “Together, we will empower the work of healthcare professionals and address some of society’s most challenging healthcare issues for the benefit of as many people as possible.”