Novartis, Microsoft ink deal to use AI to accelerate drug development

Novartis on Tuesday announced a multi-year deal with Microsoft to utilise artificial intelligence (AI) to enhance its research efforts and speed the discovery and development of treatments. Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan said "my aspiration is to lead in the space," adding "if we can scale the technology across the value chain of the company, that will, I hope, lead to a significant differentiation over time."

As part of the collaboration, the Swiss drugmaker will found an AI innovation laboratory, with an initial focus on the development of personalised treatments for macular degeneration, cell and gene therapy, in addition to drug design. The companies will develop co-working environments at Novartis' campuses in Switzerland and Ireland, as well as Microsoft's research laboratory in the UK.

"We believe that by applying AI methods to our large clinical and preclinical data sets, we should be able to identify the 'super-responding' patient populations, or patient populations that uniquely respond to different medicines, which then could lead to further testing," Narasimhan remarked. Along with leading to the development of more personalised medicines, the CEO suggested that this would allow Novartis to build "a better value proposition to healthcare systems."

The companies explained that the project will have two core areas, namely AI empowerment and AI exploration. In the first area, the firms will seek to provide access to AI tools to each Novartis employee by combining the drugmaker's datasets with Microsoft's AI solutions. Meanwhile, in the area of AI exploration, Novartis' laboratory will use AI to overcome some of the most difficult computational challenges within life sciences, beginning with generative chemistry, image segmentation and analysis to permit the smart and personalised delivery of medicines and optimisation of cell and gene therapies at scale.  

Narasimhan commented "as Novartis continues evolving into a focused medicines company powered by advanced therapy platforms and data science, alliances like this will help us deliver on our purpose to reimagine medicine." The executive suggested that the partnership is expected to show "tangible impact" across the business within its three-year timescale, adding "I hope…we can make bringing down the costs of drug discovery and drug development a reality."

Novartis and Microsoft will additionally work together to develop and employ next-generation AI platforms and processes in support of future programmes across the two focus areas.

The news follows several recent deals by drugmakers to bolster their investments in AI. Last month, Bayer licensed One Drop's platform for use in drug development efforts, while both Hansoh Pharmaceutical and Eli Lilly have partnered with Atomwise to use AI to design and develop drug candidates. In addition, in March, Celgene announced a collaboration to use Exscientia's AI drug discovery capabilities, with Bristol-Myers Squibb in the same month gaining a licence to Concerto HealthAI's real-world data and AI insights to accelerate cancer drug development.

To read more Top Story articles, click here.