Incoming Novartis AG CEO Lays Out 'Productivity Revolution' Quest in First Interview

Incoming Novartis AG CEO Lays Out 'Productivity Revolution' Quest in First Interview September 26, 2017
By Alex Keown, Breaking News Staff

BASEL, Switzerland – New Novartis Chief Executive Officer Vasant Narasimhan has a goal of saving 25 percent of clinical trial costs by using digital technology.

In an interview with Swiss Info, Narasimhan said more efficient use of digital technology could save the company millions of dollars when it comes to clinical trials. Novartis has approximately 500 ongoing trials and 200 drug development projects in the works. If the company can implement greater efficiency, that could save the company massive amount of money.

To implement this plan, Narasimhan said he will partner with a company or acquire artificial intelligence and data analytics companies. Taking such a step will “supplement Novartis’s strong but scattered data science capability,” Narasimhan told Swiss Info. A recent study released by Tufts University and Veeva Vault, revealed a growing challenge in building and managing clinical study databases. Those challenges tend to add delays to clinical trials, which increase costs. Narasimhan seems to have come to the same conclusion and sees this as a key area of investment for the company.

With the focus on data science, there is the potential for new positions at Novartis in those roles. Narasimhan indicated that he could expand the “talent base” of that division after he takes over next year.

Narasimhan, who is currently the company’s chief medical officer and head of global drug development, was tapped as the new CEO earlier this month when Joseph Jimenez announced his departure. By bringing in Narasimhan to helm the company, some analysts believe Novartis will place more emphasis on drug development, particularly given his current role. That’s something that David Epstein, formerly of Novartis and now a partner at Flagship Pioneering, told Swiss Info. Epstein said the company’s growth and the bulk of its profits are coming from “the pharma part of the business.”

And it seems that Narasimhan is also holding to that idea for the future of Novartis.

“I really think of our future as a medicines and data science company, centered on innovation and access,” Narasimhan told Swiss Info.

That reaffirms what Narasimhan told reporters after he was named Jimenez’ replacement. He said Novartis’ goal will be “to continue to drive that innovation agenda in a new world where there’s so many possibilities with new science, data and digital.”

In addition to augmenting digital technology, Narasimhan will have some other decisions to make when he takes over at the end of January for the departing Joseph Jimenez. There are questions as to whether or not Novartis should spin off its eye-care company, Alcon – something that could provide the company with between $25 and $35 billion in cash. Also, Swiss Info noted that the company could look to sell off its stakes in rival companies GlaxoSmithKline and Roche . Novartis holds a 36.5 per cent stake in GSK’s consumer joint business and about 6 percent of Roche, which is valued at about $14 billion. The company could also spin off its generics company Sandoz. Over the past year, Swiss Info noted that stakes at Sandoz have slipped by 5 percent. That came in below analysts’ expectations.

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