Developing New Drugs Has Become as Much an AI and Data Science Problem as it is a Biology and Chemistry Problem
By: Ellyn McMullin, Research Associate
Bringing a new medicine to market is a costly and time-consuming process. Nine out of 10 drug possibilities fail somewhere along the way. As a result, on average, it costs life sciences companies $2.6 billion to introduce a single new prescription drug. Streamlining drug development is an urgent issue from uncovering new ways to treat age-old sicknesses, to developing new vaccines to prevent highly-contagious diseases from turning into global pandemics, the impact in terms of lives saved worldwide would be enormous if new medicines could be invented faster.
Novartis and Microsoft recently announced their collaboration to explore how to take advantage of advanced Microsoft AI technology combined with Novartis’ life sciences expertise to find new ways to address the challenges underlying every phase of drug development. There have been amazing scientific advances in recent years based on the ability to analyze huge amounts of data in new ways. Developing new drugs has become as much an AI and data science problem as it is a biology and chemistry problem.
The exponential increase in digital health information in recent years offers new opportunities to improve human health; however, making sense of all the data is a huge challenge. The issue isn’t just an issue of overwhelming volume. Much of the information exists in the form of unstructured data, such as research lab notes and clinical trial results, which is typically stored in disconnected systems. This approach makes bringing all that data together extremely difficult.
The goal of the new collaboration is to utilize Microsoft AI solutions to analyze large amounts of information and discover new correlations and patterns critical to finding new medicines. The Microsoft data scientists and Novartis research teams are targeting three specific areas:
- personalized treatment for macular degeneration
- manufacturing new gene and cell therapies more efficiently with an initial focus on acute lymphoblastic leukemia
- a focus on using AI to shorten the time required to design new medicines
Vas Narasimhan, CEO of Novartis, said, “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. 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.”
Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella, added, “Our strategic alliance will combine Novartis’ life sciences expertise with the power of Azure 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.”
This strategic alliance is an important collaborative effort that promises to have a profound impact on how breakthrough medicines and treatments are developed and delivered.
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