Embrace operational excellence
We are rethinking how we work and increasing productivity to free resources that we can invest in innovation and help boost returns. Our progress in recent years helped us respond to the COVID-19 pandemic while maintaining a reliable supply of medicines for patients and advancing our data and digital strategy.
Maintaining supply for patients
Millions of patients around the world depend on Novartis to maintain a reliable supply of medicines. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, our priority has been to ensure the continued supply of medicines in the face of challenges, including border closures and national lockdowns, while safeguarding the well-being of our people.
The production of medicines cannot happen virtually. As soon as the crisis began, we took steps to safeguard the health and well-being of Novartis Technical Operations (NTO) associates who needed to be on site, including introducing additional safety measures, providing childcare support and offering extra paid leave. Due to the resilience of our supply chain and the dedication of our associates, we maintained a continuous supply of medicines in 2020, producing 72 billion treatments across our global production sites – in line with the previous year – with no major disruptions to the majority of our portfolio.
Some of our associates literally went the extra mile to ensure patients received urgent treatments. Joerg Trappe, a tissue operations expert in NTO, is one example. He obtained permission from the German authorities to drive 870 kilometers from Switzerland to Berlin in April, when borders were closed, so that he could train hospital staff in how to collect and preserve a patient’s cells for Kymriah, an individualized cancer medicine.
Associates also set up new processes to ship medicines to epicenters of the pandemic within 24 hours, and repurposed spare capacity at some sites to produce materials such as hand sanitizer, disinfectant and COVID-19 testing kits.
Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, we continued to make progress in transforming our manufacturing capabilities to support the strategic priorities of Novartis. For example, in 2020 we received approval to produce chimeric antigen receptor T-cell (CAR-T) therapies in Switzerland, France and Japan, expanding our global CAR-T production network to seven sites worldwide and boosting our ability to supply these specialized medicines to patients.
We also continued to use digital technology to help streamline and optimize manufacturing processes. As part of our ongoing collaboration with Microsoft, we are using artificial intelligence (AI) to improve the CAR-T production process of separating plasma and T-cells from human blood and re-engineering the cells into cancer-fighting machines.
While pursuing our transformation, we maintained a focus on quality. Of 126 inspections of our facilities by health authorities around the world, all but one were found to be acceptable (99.2%). The one inspection that may require further improvement was due to increased inspection focus on our clinical activities. The final classification of this inspection is still to be determined.
Resilience in business services
Our global Novartis Business Services (NBS) organization continued to make progress on improving efficiency and supporting our business units as they implement our strategy. These efforts have delivered approximately USD 500 million in savings from 2018 through 2020, helping to improve margins and increase our ability to invest in strategic areas such as research and development.
NBS also helped minimize disruptions during the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, NBS associates made sure our labs and production facilities were safe for associates who needed to be on site, including overcoming supply shortages and other challenges to secure necessary personal protective equipment.
NBS also ensured associates who could work from home were able to do so. Our IT team doubled network capacity and accelerated the rollout of Microsoft Teams to more than 100 000 associates worldwide. They supported our commercial and medical teams to engage with healthcare professionals virtually. Meanwhile, we welcomed more than 14 500 new associates to Novartis in 2020, most of whom were onboarded virtually.
The COVID-19 crisis and subsequent shift to virtual ways of working helped reduce business travel and improve environmental performance in 2020. Travel-related carbon dioxide emissions decreased by 86% in 2020 compared with the previous year, while business travel volume fell by 80%. In addition, NTO continued to improve the sustainability footprint of Novartis with regard to climate, water and waste. For more information on our environmental impact, please see the section “Build trust with society.”
The pandemic also accelerated our efforts to create a flexible working environment that inspires people to make the most impact in their roles. NBS is supporting this shift by helping associates work remotely in a healthy and effective way, for example by providing access to corporate discounts for office furniture and other equipment, while continuing to ensure safe on-site working for associates. For more information on changing working styles at Novartis, please see the section “Unleash the power of our people.”
Accelerating digital innovation
We continued to use data science and digital technology to spur innovation, increase efficiency, and reduce costs in production and business services. One example is SpotOn, a platform that provides real-time data insights about the performance of our manufacturing and supply chain to support data-driven decision-making. The platform, developed as part of our collaboration with Amazon, is currently live at five sites in Europe, and we aim to expand its use across our production network.
We continued to use data science and digital technology to spur innovation, increase efficiency, and reduce costs in production and business services
Another important focus area was the launch of a multiyear program to upgrade and consolidate our data architecture, further simplify processes, and help Novartis leverage digital technology at an even greater scale. The goal is to ensure flexibility in our core processes and systems as business models evolve.
Strengthening product launches
With multiple planned product launches in the coming years, we are taking steps to become more consistent across markets and ensure we deploy our resources effectively. We are investing in earlier prelaunch preparations, including talking with doctors, patients and insurers to better understand their needs.
Take Tabrecta, for example, an oral therapy approved for patients diagnosed with an aggressive form of lung cancer called metastatic non-small cell lung cancer (mNSCLC) whose tumors have a specific genomic mutation. As we prepared for US approval and launch amid an evolving COVID-19 pandemic, we knew it would be critical to understand the challenges and concerns of patients with mNSCLC. In addition, we sought to address the needs of physicians and determine how to best inform them about the approval while acknowledging the hurdles they faced during the pandemic. Novartis sales representatives in the US used email to alert doctors to the new therapy and gave them the option to receive more information via a dedicated website or virtual meeting. The website received more than 9 000 visits in the first month.
We are also using data science to test and learn from new commercial models. For example, by employing real-time analysis of marketing data for Enerzair Breezhaler in Germany, we were able to target customers with personalized content, orchestrated across multiple channels. Similarly, for Cosentyx in the US, we used AI to optimize marketing to healthcare professionals, generating an increase in new prescriptions.