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Novartis, Microsoft Partner on A.I.

Artificial intelligence graphic

(Gerd Altmann, Pixabay)

2 Oct. 2019. Drug maker Novartis is collaborating with Microsoft to extend the company’s adoption of artificial intelligence into many of its corporate functions. Financial aspects of the multi-year agreement between the two companies were not disclosed.

Novartis is establishing an artificial intelligence innovation lab with Microsoft to integrate A.I. technologies into more of its operations. As part of this program, Novartis says it wants to put A.I. tools on every employee’s desktop. In addition, the company seeks to develop new A.I. models with Novartis data sets and Microsoft technology to enhance the productivity of company professionals working in drug discovery, development, and commercialization.

The A.I. lab is also expected to address computational challenges in drug development and delivery. Among the immediate computational tasks are generating new chemical molecules, image analysis, personalized drug delivery, and scaling up cell and gene therapies. The company plans joint A.I. innovation labs with Microsoft at Novartis sites in Switzerland and Ireland, and Microsoft’s research center in the U.K.

The two companies expect to collaborate initially on personalized treatments for macular degeneration, a common disorder and the leading cause of vision loss in people over the age of 50. Novartis and Microsoft are also teaming on boosting the efficiency of cell and gene therapies, starting with a treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia. And a third initial focus is adopting neural networks, a type of machine learning algorithms, to reduce the time needed to design new drug molecules.

For at least the past year, Novartis is embracing more digital solutions. In its 2018 annual review, the company described a plan to “go big on data and digital,” beginning with elevating its chief digital officer to the company’s executive committee. Novartis also established 12 so-called lighthouse projects to embed digital tools and technologies more deeply into its operations. These projects include more use of data analytics to speed up drug discovery and development, increase access to clinical trials, gain new insights into disease progression, streamline drug manufacturing, and improve sales calls with physicians.

In some cases, the company wants to extend A.I. and data science to its collaborations with university labs and other enterprises. One of those collaborations is between Novartis’s Sandoz division that produces generic drugs and Pear Therapeutics to commercialize a mobile app as a digital therapy for substance use disorder. As reported by Science and Enterprise in December 2018, FDA cleared the app, called reSET-0, for sale in the U.S., the first mobile app authorized by FDA for opioid treatment. In the collaboration with Microsoft, Novartis says it expects to scale up the 12 lighthouse projects.

“Together,” says Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella in a joint statement, “we aim to address some of the biggest challenges facing the life sciences industry today and bring A.I. capabilities to every Novartis employee so they can unlock new insights as they work to discover new medicines and reduce patient costs.”

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