Clinical trials ready for digital disruption: Head of development IT, Novartis | Interview

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Published: April 18, 2019 12:12:10 AM

Pharma major Novartis is investing in data and digital technologies to explore potential benefits, including developing drugs based on unique biomarkers of patients who are not part of clinical trials.

Achim PlueckebaumAchim Plueckebaum

Pharma major Novartis is investing in data and digital technologies to explore potential benefits, including developing drugs based on unique biomarkers of patients who are not part of clinical trials. It is leveraging advances in technology to reimagine more precision-based treatments, Achim Plueckebaum, head of development IT, Novartis, tells BV Mahalakshmi. With its project Data42 it is trying to harness the power of data analytics, Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to find leads for possible new drugs. Excerpts:

What are the new technology initiatives being taken to accelerate the drug development process?
Clinical trials, which account for a third of the cost and time involved in drug development, are ready for disruption. We have designed SENSE—a global surveillance hub where computers map and chart Novartis’ network of 500 drug studies in 70 countries, trying to predict potential problems on a minute-by-minute basis. This platform can help us take immediate corrective action, improve efficiency, and reduce the time it takes to recruit patients for a trial.

We are investing in data and digital technologies to explore potential benefits including developing drugs based on unique biomarkers of patients who are not part of clinical trials. We are leveraging advances in technology to reimagine the way we treat diseases such as cancer to more precision-based treatments.

What is the role of the India office in the global technology activities?
Of the 800-plus employees in India, we have around 2,000 closely involved in the entire spectrum of the drug development process.We would like to leverage the ecosystem here to identify the right talent, especially in the data science space. Our teams in India are already an integral part of various digital projects in the area of ML, AI and natural language processing.

As there is a lot of talk of about ML, AI, deep learning, what do GDD and STRIDE mean to the company?
GDD or the global drug development division is the engine that powers the Novartis pipeline. In 2016, Novartis put all of its global drug development efforts under one roof to boost collaboration and exchange of knowledge across the organisation to fuel medical innovations that can have a high patient impact. A significant enabler of this vision will be our ability to digitise the wealth of our clinical data. STRIDE is our systems transformation project aimed at creating a data system which is easy to access, use and analyse. Data42 is a project through which we are trying to harness the power of data analytics, ML and AI to find leads for possible new drugs. We believe these initiatives will help propel our data and digital efforts into the next decade.

What is the roadmap for collaboration with government institutions and corporate hospitals in India?
From the drug development standpoint, India is one of the global development centers for Novartis worldwide. It plays a key role in Novartis’ global vision of combining deep therapeutic area knowledge with advanced, integrated data analytics to drive an agile approach to drug development. India offers a critical mass of industry-leading talent. This enables GDD India to support critical components of the drug development process across Novartis’ broad, integrated pipeline.

In addition to this, a robust analytical and formulation operations is housed in a government recognised laboratory facility in Genome Valley, Hyderabad. We carry out technical and analytical drug development work. The results of the tests and analysis carried out in the lab are used as inputs in the applications made by Novartis globally. In India, we need a new, patient-centric model for clinical trials that aims to increase access and seamlessly integrate trial participation into patients’ everyday lives. We need a model which enables patients to participate in clinical trials at their treating doctor’s clinic.

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