Novartis, with Assist from Microsoft, Launches AI Innovation Lab

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Verge Genomics has raised $32 million in Series A financing toward further development of new treatments by combining machine learning and neuroscience with experimental biology. [Source: kentoh/Getty Images]

Novartis will establish an “AI innovation lab” designed to enable its research and commercial employees to use Microsoft’s artificial intelligence solutions across operations, with the aim of transforming how new treatments are discovered, developed, and commercialized.

The pharma giant has selected Microsoft as its partner for a multi-year AI-based R&D effort, through a collaboration whose value was not disclosed. The companies did say, however, that their overall investment in AI would include project funding, subject-matter experts, technology, and tools.

The companies laid out two objectives for the AI lab. One is creating new AI models and applications that will allow every Novartis associate to access the company’s datasets combined with Microsoft’s AI solutions.

The other objective is using the power of AI to tackle some of the hardest computational challenges within life sciences—including generative chemistry, image segmentation, and analysis for smart and personalized delivery of therapies, as well as optimization of cell and gene therapies at scale.

The companies agreed to carry out joint research activities that will include co-working environments on Novartis’ headquarters campus in Basel, Switzerland; at Novartis Global Service Center in Dublin; and at Microsoft Research Lab in the U.K.—starting with tackling personalized therapies for macular degeneration; cell & gene therapy; and drug design.

Microsoft and Novartis also agreed to partner in supporting future programs across its two objectives by developing and applying next-generation AI platforms and processes.

“Reimagine medicine”

“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 to improve and extend patients’ lives,” Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan said in a statement. “Pairing our deep knowledge of human biology and medicine with Microsoft’s leading expertise in AI could transform the way we discover and develop medicines for the world.”

Novartis said the partnership with Microsoft will help it fulfill its “strategic pillar” of  “going big on data and digital” in order to be a leading developer of new treatments. To that end, Novartis said, it focuses its efforts around four strategic digital priority areas:

  • Scaling 12 digital lighthouse projects: Build a strong foundation and jumpstart our digital transformation
  • Make Novartis digital: Sharing, learning, and talent acquisition
  • Become the number-one partner in the tech ecosystem: Bridge Novartis with external expertise
  • Bolder moves: Lead through future disruptive healthcare scenarios with large-scale partnerships.

Added Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella: “Our strategic alliance will combine Novartis’ life sciences expertise with the power of Azure [Microsoft’s cloud computing platform] and Microsoft AI. Together, we aim to address some of the biggest challenges facing the life sciences industry today and bring AI capabilities to every Novartis employee so they can unlock new insights as they work to discover new medicines and reduce patient costs.”

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