Microsoft and Novartis Ink Artificial Intelligence (AI) Deal Harbinger of Much More AI in Pharma to Come


Novartis and Microsoft have come together to capitalize on advanced Microsoft AI technology combined with Novartis’ deep life sciences-based drug discovery and development expertise to find new ways to address the challenges underlying every phase of drug development—from discovery and clinical trials through manufacturing, operations, and finance.

The Problem

As the two address in their joint press release, nine out of ten promising drug candidates fail somewhere along the way. Consequently, the average cost of a newly marketed drug is estimated at $2.6 billion. The challenge is much bigger than just drug companies as a society depends on the effective and efficient development and approval of life-saving drugs.

Key Deal Points

The two companies have inked a multiyear alliance underpinning the Novartis commitment to leverage data and AI to transform how medicines are discovered, developed and commercialized. Novartis will seek to establish an AI innovation lab to empower its associates to use AI across the company. The two announced joint research activities including co-working environments on Novartis Campus (Basel, Switzerland), Novartis Global Service Center in Dublin, and at Microsoft Research Lab (UK). They will start immediately tackling personalized therapies for macular degeneration, cell and gene therapy, and drug design.

Microsoft Position

Peter Lee, Microsoft’s Corporate Vice President Healthcare discusses the implications of this deal.

Flurry of AI Activity

Pharma is adopting AI in a big way. TrialSite News tracts some of the deal-making to the extent it involves clinical trials. Interestingly, the Blog BenchSci reports on 33 pharma AI projects in drug discovery. Examples include Amgen’s participation with MIT in the Machine Learning for Pharmaceutical Discovery and Synthesis Consortium not to mention the collaboration with a startup called Owkin. Just a few months ago Amgen joined MELLODDY: Machine Learning Ledger Orchestration for Drug Discovery.

AstraZeneca partnered with Chinese giant Alibaba to delve into their AI platform for patient diagnosis and treatment while also partnering with AI upstart BenevolentAI targeting chronic kidney disease and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. Moreover, AstraZeneca as well joined MELLODDY recently.

Lilly, as well as many others, are also part of Machine Learning for Pharmaceutical Discovery and Synthesis Consortium. Celgene inked an alliance with Amazon’s AWS Machine Learning and BenchSci also recently reported that at least 158 startups are using AI and Machine Learning for drug discovery. The AI race is on across pharma across division, department, and affiliates.