Microsoft and Novartis partner to accelerate drug development

Elly Yates-Roberts
By Elly Yates-Roberts on 02 October 2019
Microsoft and Novartis partner to accelerate drug development

Microsoft is partnering with pharmaceutical company Novartis to accelerate drug development using artificial intelligence (AI) technology. The combined firms’ expertise aims to reinvent research, clinical trials, drug manufacture and more.  

According to Microsoft’s Peter Lee, bringing a single new medicine to market can take over a decade and cost up to US$2.6 billion. Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan believes that the new partnership with Microsoft could help remedy some of the many thousands of diseases that are currently uncurable, particularly through effective data analysis.  

A central part of the collaboration effort is to enable Novartis associates across the whole drug development process to use AI to unlock the insights from the vast amounts of data. Connecting disparate systems that contain unstructured data like research lab notes, medical journal articles and clinical trial results is key to reaching this.

Through the partnership, associates working on new problems and developing new AI models, will build on each other’s work. “The result?” said Lee, corporate vice president of Microsoft Healthcare. “Pervasive intelligence that spans the company and reaches across the entire drug discovery process, improving Novartis’ ability to find answers to some of the world’s most pressing health challenges.”

Data scientists from Microsoft Research and research teams from Novartis will also investigate how AI can help unlock transformational new approaches in three specific areas: personalised treatment for macular degeneration – a leading cause of irreversible blindness; manufacturing new gene and cell therapies more efficiently, with an initial focus on acute lymphoblastic leukemia; and accelerating the medicine design process by using neural networks developed by Microsoft to automatically generate, screen and select promising molecules.

“With the depth and breadth of knowledge that Novartis offers in bioscience and Microsoft’s unmatched expertise in computer science and AI, we have a unique opportunity to reinvent the way new medicines are created,” said Lee. “Through this process, we believe we can help lead the way forward toward a world where high-quality treatment and care is significantly more personal, more effective, more affordable and more accessible.”

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