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Novartis and Microsoft combine deep bioscience and AI to help patients worldwide

In the world of commercial research and science, there’s probably no undertaking more daunting – or more expensive – than the process of bringing a new medicine to market. For a new compound to make it from initial discovery through development, testing and clinical trials to finally earn regulatory approval can take a decade or more. Nine out of 10 promising drug candidates fail somewhere along the way. As a result, on average, it costs life sciences companies $2.6 billion to introduce a single new prescription drug.

This is much more than just a challenge for life sciences companies. Streamlining drug development is an urgent issue for human health more broadly. From uncovering new ways to treat age-old sicknesses like malaria that still kills hundreds of thousands of people every year, to finding new cancer treatments, or developing new vaccines to prevent highly-contagious diseases from turning into global pandemics, the impact in terms of lives saved worldwide would be enormous if we could make inventing new medicines faster.

As announced today, this is why Novartis and Microsoft are collaborating to explore how to take advantage of advanced Microsoft AI technology combined with Novartis’ deep life sciences expertise to find new ways to address the challenges underlying every phase of drug development – including research, clinical trials, manufacturing, operations and finance. In a recent interview, Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan spoke about the potential for this alliance to unlock the power of AI to help Novartis accelerate research into new treatments for many of the thousands of diseases for which there is, as yet, no known cure.

In the biotech industry, there have been amazing scientific advances in recent years that have the potential to revolutionize the discovery of new, life-saving drugs. Because many of these advances are based on the ability to analyze huge amounts of data in new ways, developing new drugs has become as much an AI and data science problem as it is a biology and chemistry problem. This means companies like Novartis need to become data science companies to an extent never seen before. Central to our work together is a focus on empowering Novartis associates at each step of drug development to use AI to unlock the insights hidden in vast amounts of data, even if they aren’t data scientists. That’s because while the exponential increase in digital health information in recent years offers new opportunities to improve human health, making sense of all the data is a huge challenge.

The issue isn’t just a problem of the overwhelming volume. Much of the information exists in the form of unstructured data, such as research lab notes, medical journal articles, and clinical trial results, all of which is typically stored in disconnected systems. This makes bringing all that data together extremely difficult. Our two companies have a dream. We want all Novartis associates – even those without special expertise in data science – to be able to use Microsoft AI solutions every day, to analyze large amounts of information and discover new correlations and patterns critical to finding new medicines. The goal of this strategic collaboration is to make this dream a reality. This offers the potential to empower everyone from researchers exploring the potential of new compounds and scientists figuring out dosage levels, to clinical trial experts measuring results, operations managers seeking to improve supply chains more efficiently, and even business teams looking to make more effective decisions. And as associates work on new problems and develop new AI models, they will continually build on each other’s work, creating a virtuous cycle of exploration and discovery. The result? Pervasive intelligence that spans the company and reaches across the entire drug discovery process, improving Novartis’ ability to find answers to some of the world’s most pressing health challenges.

As part of our work with Novartis, data scientists from Microsoft Research and research teams from Novartis will also work together to investigate how AI can help unlock transformational new approaches in three specific areas. The first is about personalized treatment for macular degeneration – a leading cause of irreversible blindness. The second will involve exploring ways to use AI to make manufacturing new gene and cell therapies more efficient, with an initial focus on acute lymphoblastic leukemia. And the third area will focus on using AI to shorten the time required to design new medicines, using pioneering neural networks developed by Microsoft to automatically generate, screen and select promising molecules. As our work together moves forward, we expect that the scope of our joint research will grow.

At Microsoft, we’re excited about the potential for this collaboration to transform R&D in life sciences. As Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella explained, putting the power of AI in the hands of Novartis employees will give the company unprecedented opportunities to explore new frontiers of medicine that will yield new life-saving treatments for patients around the world.

While we’re just at the beginning of a long process of exploration and discovery, this strategic alliance marks the start of an important collaborative effort that promises to have a profound impact on how breakthrough medicines and treatments are developed and delivered. With the depth and breadth of knowledge that Novartis offers in bioscience and Microsoft’s unmatched expertise in computer science and AI, we have a unique opportunity to reinvent the way new medicines are created. Through this process, we believe we can help lead the way forward toward a world where high-quality treatment and care is significantly more personal, more effective, more affordable and more accessible.

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Novartis and Microsoft announce collaboration to transform medicine with artificial intelligence

  • Multiyear alliance underpins the Novartis commitment to leverage data & artificial intelligence (AI) to transform how medicines are discovered, developed and commercialized
  • Novartis to establish AI innovation lab to empower its associates to use AI across the business
  • Joint research activities will include co-working environments on Novartis Campus (Switzerland), at Novartis Global Service Center in Dublin, and at Microsoft Research Lab (UK) – starting with tackling personalized therapies for macular degeneration; cell & gene therapy; and drug design

Basel, and Redmond, October 1, 2019 – Novartis today announced an important step in reimagining medicine by founding the Novartis AI innovation lab and by selecting Microsoft Corp. as its strategic AI and data-science partner for this effort. The new 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.

As part of the strategic collaboration announced, Novartis and Microsoft have committed to a multi-year research and development effort. This strategic alliance will focus on two core objectives:

  • AI Empowerment. The lab will aim to bring the power of AI to the desktop of every Novartis associate. By bringing together vast amounts of Novartis datasets with Microsoft’s advanced AI solutions, the lab will aim to create new AI models and applications that can augment our associates’ capabilities to take on the next wave of challenges in medicine.
  • AI Exploration. The lab will use the power of AI to tackle some of the hardest computational challenges within the life sciences, starting with generative chemistry, image segmentation & analysis for smart and personalized delivery of therapies, and optimization of cell and gene therapies at scale.

Microsoft and Novartis will also collaborate to develop and apply next-generation AI platforms and processes that support future programs across these two focus areas. The overall investment will include project funding, subject-matter experts, technology, and tools.

Novartis logo
Vas Narasimhan, CEO of Novartis, 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.”

Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella, added, “Our strategic alliance will combine Novartis’ life sciences expertise with the power of Azure and Microsoft AI. Together, we aim to 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.”

Novartis Data & Digital

Novartis is focusing itself as a leading medicines company powered by advanced therapies and data science. Going big on data and digital is a key strategic pillar that helps Novartis realize that ambition. Data science and digital technologies allow the company to reimagine how it innovates in R&D, engages with patients and customers, and increases operational efficiencies. Novartis focuses its efforts around four strategic digital priority areas:

  • Scaling 12 digital lighthouse projects: Build a strong foundation and jumpstart digital transformation
  • Make Novartis digital: sharing, learning and talent acquisition
  • Becoming the #1 partner in the tech ecosystem: bridge Novartis with external expertise
  • Bolder moves: lead through future disruptive healthcare scenarios with large-scale partnerships

Disclaimer

This press release contains forward-looking statements within the meaning of the United States Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995 that can generally be identified by words such as “to transform,” “multiyear,” “commitment,” “to found,” “aims,” “vision,” “potential,” “can,” “will,” “plan,” “expect,” “anticipate,” “committed,” or similar terms, or regarding the development or adoption of potentially transformational technologies and business models and the collaboration with Microsoft; or by express or implied discussions regarding potential marketing approvals, new indications or labeling for the healthcare products described in this press release, or regarding potential future revenues from collaboration with Microsoft or such products. You should not place undue reliance on these statements. Such forward-looking statements are based on our current beliefs and expectations regarding future events, and are subject to significant known and unknown risks and uncertainties. Should one or more of these risks or uncertainties materialize, or should underlying assumptions prove incorrect, actual results may vary materially from those set forth in the forward-looking statements. There can be no guarantee that the collaboration with Microsoft will achieve any or all of its intended goals or objectives, or in any particular time frame. Neither can there be any guarantee that any healthcare products described in this press release will be submitted or approved for sale or for any additional indications or labeling in any market, or at any particular time. Nor can there be any guarantee that the collaboration with Microsoft or such products will be commercially successful in the future. In particular, our expectations regarding the collaboration with Microsoft and such products could be affected by, among other things, uncertainties involved in the development or adoption of potentially transformational technologies and business models; the uncertainties inherent in research and development of new healthcare products, including clinical trial results and additional analysis of existing clinical data; regulatory actions or delays or government regulation generally, including potential regulatory actions or delays with respect to the collaboration with Microsoft; global trends toward health care cost containment, including government, payor and general public pricing and reimbursement pressures and requirements for increased pricing transparency; our ability to obtain or maintain proprietary intellectual property protection; the particular prescribing preferences of physicians and patients; general political, economic and trade conditions; safety, quality or manufacturing issues; potential or actual data security and data privacy breaches, or disruptions of our information technology systems, and other risks and factors referred to in Novartis AG’s current Form 20-F on file with the US Securities and Exchange Commission. Novartis is providing the information in this press release as of this date and does not undertake any obligation to update any forward-looking statements contained in this press release as a result of new information, future events or otherwise.

About Novartis

Novartis is reimagining medicine to improve and extend people’s lives. As a leading global medicines company, we use innovative science and digital technologies to create transformative treatments in areas of great medical need. In our quest to find new medicines, we consistently rank among the world’s top companies investing in research and development. Novartis products reach more than 750 million people globally and we are finding innovative ways to expand access to our latest treatments. About 108 000 people of more than 140 nationalities work at Novartis around the world. Find out more at www.novartis.com.

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