Novartis leverages Big Tech to solve Big Pharma’s problem with drug trials
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Novartis leverages Big Tech to solve Big Pharma’s problem with drug trials

We live in an age of unprecedented medical breakthroughs. Once formidable diseases and viruses like cancer and HIV remain dangerous – but they’re not the death sentence they were even a decade earlier. Those are headline grabbing examples, but medical advancements are coming hard and fast. The only problem? The drug trials it takes to get these innovations to market are expensive, and slow. Big Pharma is deeply aware of this problem, and leveraging the latest technology to fix it. Novartis is on the front line of that battle.

Novartis’s share price has edged up by 1% so far this year

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Source: Yahoo Finance

Making sure that new treatments are safe and effective is a vital hurdle to getting them to market. To do it, drugmakers have to carry out years of trials on carefully selected patients, tracking their health in minute detail and analysing reams of data. This is a costly process, and a lengthy one – assuming they can find hospitals to host the tests, it can take pharmaceutical companies as much as $2 billion and 12 years to get treatments to the people who need them most. There’s no doubt that standards can’t slip, but those timelines (and the prohibitive costs drugs accrue along the way) aren’t good for business or patients.

According to Justin Hoss, a KPMG consultant with a focus on technology and life science, pharmaceutical companies “do an excellent job of drug discovery. Then they get to a point of doing clinical trials, and it’s a big bottleneck. The faster they get people through clinical trials, the faster they’re going to know whether their investment was worth it or not.” As a result, these companies are examining the process with a finer eye for detail – Hoss describes it as “completely ripe for disruption.”

Novartis in particular is looking to streamline a drug trialling process which costs it $5 billion a year. To do this, it spent time with aerospace giant Boeing Co. and Swissgrid AG, a power provider, to get a handle on how these companies used tech-driven crisis centres to prevent “failures and blackouts”. The end result is a global surveillance hub where supercomputers chart all of Novartis’s 500-odd ongoing drug trials in 70 countries, predicting problems in real-time.

Bertrand Bodson, an Amazon veteran who moved to Novartis last year, says that the traditional approach to drugs testing was taking “way too long for our patients, and way too long for the economics of the business. We wanted to modernise that.”

Time will tell whether the company has got it right.

Dominion holds Novartis in its Global Trends Managed Fund.

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