Novartis' Sandoz goes digital from back office to 'not just apps,' therapeutics  

Pharma's digital revolution is well underway, and Sandoz is placing some big bets that tech can transform the company—and everything it does.

The Novartis generics business is taking on digital and data technologies from discovery and development all the way to commercialization, believing the approach can open up healthcare access and improve patient outcomes.

Leading the digital transformation push in North America is Carol Lynch, president of Sandoz U.S. and head of North America, and Mike Fraser, VP of strategy, innovation and analytics. The two talked to FiercePharma recently about Sandoz and Novartis’ strategy, programs and mission in digital technology.

“We're looking across the whole value chain to make sure we’re embracing digital and technology wherever we can. So that means from the way that we innovate, to the way that we sell and the way that we operate and do day-to-day business,” Lynch said. “That spans a whole range of activities from how do you use AI and automation all the way through to prescription digital therapies.”

It's the latter field where Sandoz has honed a leading edge. Prescription digital therapeutics are an emerging category of FDA-approved digital treatments that require a doctor's prescription. And as Fraser noted, these are not "just apps."

Sandoz’s partnership with Pear Therapeutics, for instance, yielded the first FDA-approved digital therapeutics—reSET and reSET-O—and the first directly detailed by a drugmaker. The partners have more prescription therapeutics in the works for schizophrenia and multiple sclerosis.

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“We believe that prescription digital therapeutics are about to become a true medical alternative that will use communication-based technologies and software to improve patient outcomes and help lower the cost of healthcare,” Fraser said.

The “beauty of digital therapeutics" is the data, he said. That includes data initially generated to win FDA approval, plus ongoing feedback to improve the product. But it also means real-world data payers can use to monitor how effective the products are, and the day-to-day data core to treatment, both for patients and their doctors.

For example, with reSET and reSET-O for opioid addiction, patients input data about their cravings, treatments and other metrics. The records go straight to the clinician, who can use the data when the patient visits. Instead of spending time updating records and catching up on how they've been since the last office visit, the patient and provider can get right into counseling, Fraser said.

Sandoz isn’t alone in its focus on digital therapeutics, of course; the overall market is expected to grow 30% from 2017 through 2023.

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Prescription digital therapeutics make up just one of 12 digital "lighthouses" at Novartis, though it's the only one specifically housed inside Sandoz. But the generics-focused unit is adopting digital to revamp its other operations, too. They use software to help select development candidates and employ artificial intelligence for pricing and tendering, Lynch said. Its day-to-day back office processes are now automated to be more efficient, too.

Another way Sandoz is leveraging digital is its annual innovation challenge—called the Healthcare Access Challenge—held this year at South by Southwest. Sandoz's global call for entries yielded more than 400 ideas from 80 different countries. All three finalists were ultimately deemed winners because Sandoz couldn't choose just one.

Still, even with so many initiatives underway, Sandoz says it’s got plenty of room to grow in digital.

“As we’re setting out on this transformation journey, some aspects move faster than others. We’re very much at the beginning in many areas, and while we’re obviously pioneering in the digital therapeutics, we’re still at the beginning even there," Lynch said. "We’re at the head of the pack, but it’s the beginning of the journey."