Go big on data and digital
The digital revolution that has already reshaped many industries is gaining momentum in healthcare. We want to help lead the revolution in our industry and are harnessing the power of data science and digital technology across the enterprise. We aim to transform how we operate and are building a foundation to enable the large-scale adoption of technologies such as artificial intelligence, remote sensing and digital therapeutics.
These and other digital technologies are driving a new wave of scientific and medical innovation. They bring powerful new tools to every aspect of our work, from the lab to our interactions with doctors and patients. They are helping us automate processes and support our decision-making as we strive to increase productivity and find smarter ways of working. To underscore the importance of digital technologies in executing our strategy, in 2018 Novartis elevated the role of Chief Digital Officer to the Executive Committee of Novartis.
Our digital strategy has several facets. We are pursuing 12 major lighthouse projects to lead the way in embedding digital technology across the company. We are collaborating with other organizations to accelerate our digital capabilities and employ the latest technology. And we are equipping employees with the tools to help them apply digital technologies in their work.
Projects across the enterprise
Major projects now underway aim to employ digital technology and data analytics on a large scale to boost efficiency and effectiveness in key areas, including research and development (R&D), manufacturing and our commercial operations.
In R&D, we are using digital technologies and data analytics to help find new drugs and bring them to patients more quickly. For instance, we are using artificial intelligence to improve the way we plan and run our development operations, including clinical trials of experimental new treatments.
We also plan to use data analytics to review the clinical results of hundreds of drug studies completed over the past 20 years. In a project called Data42, we hope to mine 2 million patient years of clinical trial data to uncover new insights into why patients suffered from diseases such as breast cancer, multiple sclerosis and heart failure, as well as how their disease progressed and how they responded to treatment.
Advances in machine learning – where computers learn to identify previously unseen patterns in large, complex data sets – offer the hope of identifying subgroups of patients most likely to respond to a particular treatment, or of identifying a previously unknown benefit from a particular drug.
One example of this approach is in the area of heart disease, where we are working to integrate into one data pool the results of 13 clinical trials involving about 50 000 patients. In addition, we plan to include data about the patients’ genetic makeup and the levels of important proteins in their bodies.
Digital technologies also hold great promise to transform the way we manufacture medicines, improving efficiency and quality. Drawing on lessons from other industries, we have launched a number of digital initiatives.
For example, in a pilot at three manufacturing plants around the world, we are continuously monitoring key variables in the production process, such as temperature and pH, in lieu of spot testing at specific stages of the process. Then we use advanced analytics to help spot deviations early and correct them, before they become serious enough to disrupt production. We aim to use this approach to reduce instances where deviations in the process result in wasted batches.
We are also deploying artificial intelligence to help predict if a specific product will be distributed to patients before reaching the end of its normal shelf life. This should enable us to maintain high levels of customer service while avoiding write-offs.
Digital assistance in sales
In our commercial operations, we are transforming the way we approach physicians. Our sales representatives, who visit about 100 000 doctors a day around the world, are starting to benefit from the capabilities of new digital tools to facilitate more effective interactions. Working with a company called Aktana and other collaborators, we’re using machine learning to sift through information from multiple databases, such as doctors’ prescribing behavior, to suggest the best way for salespeople to approach them and address their needs.
For instance, in the US we’ve learned through experience that cardiologists tend to try our heart failure medicine Entresto with a few patients for about four months before deciding whether to prescribe it for additional patients. The new digital tool uses that insight, along with others from about 40 different databases, to suggest to sales representatives when to visit individual doctors and how to provide them with information or support they can use.
About 500 sales representatives in six countries piloted the new system in 2018. Initial findings show that they doubled their use of the customer relationship system, resulting in increased focus on physicians whose patients are most likely to benefit from a particular drug. We plan to expand the new system’s use to 10 000 salespeople in our top 11 markets, with full coverage after 2020.
Collaborations augment know-how
The tremendous potential of digital tools in science and healthcare is sparking creative ideas in universities, small startups and big companies. This is a boon to innovation, and we are working with more than 250 collaborators to access the latest technology and accelerate our digital and advanced analytics capabilities.
We are working with more than 250 collaborators to access the latest technology and accelerate our digital and advanced analytics capabilities
One novel use of technology is digital applications that are prescription therapies for neurological disorders and other illnesses, or that work in combination with drugs to improve health outcomes for patients. We are collaborating with Pear Therapeutics to develop digital therapeutics to treat schizophrenia and multiple sclerosis. In addition, our generics division, Sandoz, is helping to commercialize a prescription digital therapeutic called reSET that was developed by Pear Therapeutics to treat substance use disorder and has been cleared by the US Food and Drug Administration.
A proliferation of digital sensors is enabling remote monitoring of patients’ health. We are working with a US company called Science 37 that uses a combination of sensors, telemedicine and home nursing services that can make it easier for patients to participate in our clinical trials. Their health can be at least partly monitored at home, reducing the number of times they must visit a trial site for tests. In small trials of new drugs to treat severe acne and cluster headache, Science 37 was more successful at recruiting and retaining participants than traditional sites.
We have also taken steps to support the development of digital health innovators. In recent years, we have invested in about a dozen young digital health companies, most of which are our collaborators, to help accelerate their growth. In 2018, we launched the Novartis Biome, an innovation lab for entrepreneurs in digital health that provides access to Novartis resources, such as data from our clinical trials and mentoring. And we provided support to StartUp Health, an organization that invests in entrepreneurs working on bold solutions to major health challenges.
Digitally savvy employees
To support our transformation, we created learning opportunities for employees to improve their digital and data knowledge and capabilities. Our aim is to demystify digital technologies, show how they can transform our work, and accelerate their use.
We launched interactive online education covering many aspects of digital technology and the Novartis digital strategy. So far it has been used by more than 20 000 people, with 12 000 receiving badges for completing individual modules. In addition, we launched a series of leadership simulations that use realistic scenarios to help managers perform their role in adopting digital technology and data analytics.