With Microsoft Deal, Novartis Continues to Focus its Future Development on AI, Machine Learning

Artificial Intelligence

Swiss pharma giant Novartis has partnered with tech giant Microsoft and launched its Novartis AI innovation lab as a means to leverage data and artificial intelligence to transform drug discovery and development.

The new Novartis AI lab aims to significantly bolster Novartis AI capabilities from research through commercialization and help accelerate the discovery and development of transformative medicines for patients worldwide, the company announced Monday. As part of the strategic collaboration between the two companies, Novartis and Microsoft have committed to a multi-year research and development effort with a focus on AI empowerment and AI exploration.

With AI empowerment, Novartis said the goal is for every employee in the lab to have the AI program on their computer. Using Novartis’ datasets and Microsoft’s AI solutions, the company said the lab will create new AI models and applications that can augment their discovery and development capabilities.

For AI exploration, AI will be used to “to tackle some of the hardest computational challenges within the life sciences.” Novartis said it will begin with generative chemistry, image segmentation & analysis and optimization of cell and gene therapies at scale. Microsoft and Novartis will collaborate to develop and apply next-generation AI platforms and processes that support future programs across these two focus areas, the company said.

“As Novartis continues evolving into a focused medicines company powered by advanced therapy platforms and data science, alliances like this will help us deliver on our purpose to reimagine medicine to improve and extend lives. Pairing our deep knowledge of human biology and medicine with Microsoft’s leading expertise in AI could transform the way we discover and develop medicines for the world,” Novartis Chief Executive Officer Vas Narasimhan said in a statement.

Since taking over as CEO, Narasimhan has lead the charge at Novartis to embrace big data, artificial intelligence and machine learning. Prior to taking over the reins of Novartis, Vasant Narasimhan stressed the importance of harnessing of digital technology as a key method of saving a significant percentage of clinical trial costs. It was an idea where Narasimhan saw a significant opportunity for growth. As CEO, Narasimhan spearheaded multiple acquisitions to bolster Novartis’ position in this arena, including a deal with Shyft Analytics, a company acquired by Medidata, to harness that company’s Intelligent Platform for Life Sciences to “aggregate and manage” third-party and proprietary commercial data sources. Earlier this year Novartis struck a deal with Oxford University and its Big Data Institute. The goal of the partnership is to establish a world-leading research alliance that will improve drug development by making it more efficient and more targeted.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said the collaboration will address some of the biggest challenges facing the life sciences industry today and “bring AI capabilities to every Novartis employee so they can unlock new insights as they work to discover new medicines and reduce patient costs.”

As a side note, GlaxoSmithKline CEO Emma Walmsley was nominated to Microsoft’s board of directors last month. Her nomination will be voted on at Microsoft’s next board meeting set for Dec. 4.

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