Go big on data and digital

As the digital revolution gains momentum in our industry, one of our strategic priorities is to be a leader in harnessing data science and digital technologies to boost effectiveness and efficiency across our enterprise. Digital technologies are helping improve how our scientists discover and develop innovative new treatments, how we make decisions, how we engage with customers and how we run our operations.

As part of our data and digital strategy, we are pursuing 12 major projects to build large-scale digital solutions across every aspect of our business. We are creating a strong foundation to support our digital transformation through such steps as building massive databases and improving our people’s digital capabilities. To reinforce and accelerate our progress, we are forging partnerships with leading technology companies. And we are taking bold bets to prepare for a more digitally enabled future in healthcare.


The number of major projects we are pursuing to build large-scale digital solutions across every aspect of our business

In parallel, we are prioritizing responsible use of patient data. In January 2020, we adopted a new, principles-based privacy policy, and we are training employees on its use. And we are developing a specific approach for applying the principles to patient data.

5 000

The number of sales representatives in 11 countries using the ACTalya platform

How we innovate

Artificial intelligence (AI) and other digital technologies are helping us improve and streamline the research and development (R&D) of new treatments. We are working to shave two years from the R&D process, make clinical trials more accessible to patients, and uncover new ways to fight disease by applying powerful analytical tools to data from more than 2 500 clinical trials and 2 million patient-years of research results.

For instance, through a project called data42 we aim to fundamentally reshape how we discover and develop treatments, using AI to sift through huge amounts of data from our clinical trials and other sources to find new insights into illnesses and how to treat them. To make this possible, we are bringing together diverse data sources, from images to blood test results. And we are building the analytical tools that could help us identify potential new drugs, for example, or ways that existing drugs might be applied to different diseases.

For more detail on how we are using data and digital in R&D, please see the section “Deliver transformative innovation.

How we engage with customers

Our ambition is to use data science, new communications channels and other digital technologies to help us better serve our customers and ultimately increase revenues.

We continue to expand the use of a digital personal assistant for sales representatives, called ACTalya. It uses AI to search through information in dozens of databases and provide daily suggestions to our salespeople on how to best support doctors with information about our products. The system aims to promote more meaningful interactions with doctors and is now being used by about 5 000 people in our top 11 countries for products such as Entresto, Aimovig and Cosentyx.

Initial indications in countries where it has been in use for at least six months show the system helps improve productivity, enabling salespeople to schedule one or two additional doctor visits per day. The system is being adapted for use by others in the organization, such as salespeople working with oncologists, and our medical science liaisons.

In the Novartis Oncology business unit, we are building a data platform that uses AI to help optimize marketing, among other applications. Called DROID, it integrates data from 110 different sources from inside and outside Novartis, and deploys AI in several ways. One application helps marketers decide how best to reach doctors or patients interested in learning more about treatments for specific cancers. The algorithm suggests the optimum mix of marketing approaches for an individual product – whether through television advertising, social media or other means. DROID has been rolled out in our oncology organization in the US and is now being introduced in other countries.

Building on the tools already in place, we began work at the end of 2019 on a platform of digital solutions to support all commercial efforts in innovative medicines.

How we operate

We are finding new ways to use data and digital technologies to improve our operations, increase efficiency and support our ambitious cost-reduction efforts.

For instance, in the finance function in our Innovative Medicines Division, we are using AI and predictive analytics to forecast sales and cash flow. In our top markets, we generated sales and cash flow forecasts for the period from 2020 to 2022, shortening the budget process. We also used AI to recommend the most effective way to allocate our marketing and sales resources in top markets.

In our manufacturing operations, we’re building an advanced analytics platform to help improve production processes. To enable this approach, we linked together data captured manually, or in different systems that until recently operated independently, providing an end-to-end view.

In 2019, we built a prototype of the analytics platform to help us make better business decisions based on insights from our data. We focused on the end-to-end production process for one of our key products, Cosentyx. And we worked with our Cosentyx production site in Stein, Switzerland, to improve its process execution.

We expect the approach will help us identify and predict bottlenecks, accelerate production and ensure our medicines reach patients faster. In 2020, we plan to expand this approach to additional locations and products.

Our digital team is also looking at further potential applications whereby we can use data to improve operations or extract useful new insights, such as ways to help us accelerate cultural change in the organization, or streamline commercial operations.

Technology partnerships

To reinforce our adoption of data analytics and digital technologies, we continued to collaborate with everyone from big, leading companies in the field, to small entrepreneurial startups.

In 2019, we began a multiyear alliance with Microsoft to create the Novartis AI Innovation Lab to bolster AI capabilities across our organization, from research through commercialization. Data scientists from both organizations will work together to apply the power of AI to fundamental challenges, such as improving the design of drug molecules to make treatments more effective, finding smarter dosing patterns and improving the production process for cell therapies. The alliance also aims to empower people without data science backgrounds to use AI to help make better, faster decisions, whether they work in laboratories, factories or our commercial operations.

We also began a collaboration with Amazon Web Services to use its cloud services for an enterprise-wide data and analytics platform to help transform our business operations. The first application will be in manufacturing, where the platform is designed to give employees access to real-time information that can help increase efficiency in production processes and our supply chain.

At the other end of the scale, we continue our work with health technology startups that are finding creative new ways to harness the power of digital technologies in strategically important areas. Through a program called the Novartis Biome, we’ve created a bridge between startups and our own teams to help accelerate digital programs across our business.

During 2019, the Novartis Biome added an outpost in Paris, France, to complement the existing one in San Francisco in the US, with additional locations planned for 2020. Through collaboration with groups such as technology accelerator Plug and Play, as well as pitch events for entrepreneurs, we are engaging with startups to find creative solutions to some of our difficult challenges. One of them is Aidar Health, whose respiratory platform we are evaluating for inclusion in our drug development program. Another is Hemex Health, which is developing a portable diagnostic device for malaria and sickle cell disease.

We’re also pursuing bolder bets with partners. For instance, we’re working with technology giant Tencent to create an AI-powered digital nurse to support heart failure patients in China, where increasing life expectancy and an aging population are driving increased demand for healthcare.

Using Tencent’s WeChat application, the collaboration aims to provide heart failure patients with personalized education materials and help them manage their disease, schedule follow-up appointments with their doctor, and order prescription medication refills. During 2019, we collaborated to build a prototype of the application. In 2020, we plan to pilot it with selected patients, and then roll it out more widely.