Novartis highlights partnerships with Microsoft, Amazon, Tencent in 2-year update on digital strategy push

At a recent online event, Novartis Chief Digital Officer Betrand Bodson gave an update on a digital strategy that began in 2018.
By Jonah Comstock
03:40 pm
A screenshot of Novartis's data42 initiative, shown during the company's HLTH presentation on digital strategy.

Novartis's digital strategy hasn't changed too much since MobiHealthNews spoke with the pharma company in 2018. But, at the HLTH virtual conference this week, Novartis Chief Digital Officer Betrand Bodson reiterated the company's four-part strategy, focusing especially on its partnerships, including those with Microsoft, Amazon and China's Tencent.

"We started this agenda in earnest two and a half years ago, and it has been quite a journey," Bodson said. "I’m delighted that we started this at that time, because a lot of what we’ve been able to do – monitoring our trials, serving our patients – is a result of all the hard work that’s been put into building the foundations to address that and move in an agile way in this context."

Bodson described four pillars to Novartis's digital strategy. The first is a focus on 12 lighthouse projects the company has been working on over the last two years. These span the enterprise, and include its digital therapeutics efforts as well as data42, a project to better utilize the two million years of clinical trial data the company has amassed. 

The second pillar is the digital transformation of the company, an undertaking that Bodson described as a culture change as well as a technological one. 

"About 50% of my job is culture transformation and I’m really excited about that," he said.

The third pillar is making Novartis a "#1 partner in the health ecosystem," and the fourth is making bold moves in healthcare.

But really, all four pillars are interrelated, and it's hard to discuss them in isolation. For instance, Novartis's partnership with Amazon involves working with the company to improve processes in Novartis's manufacturing facilities, which is one of the lighthouse projects, as well as potentially leading to some bold moves forward.

With Microsoft, Novartis is looking into using AI for drug discovery and developmentBodson described both of these partnerships as in-depth and hands-on, and said that the teams are organized according to practices developed as part of the digital cultural-transformation pillar.

"We have boots on the ground [with Amazon] in our manufacturing facilities," he said. "Likewise with Microsoft, boots on the ground. We have product teams, agile teams, to the point where I look around and I don’t always know who’s from Microsoft or Amazon and who’s from Novartis. Those teams are really gelling together."

Finally, Bodson discussed the company's partnership with Tencent, offering some details on a project the two are collaborating on.

"China is moving healthcare in an incredible way," he said. "Players like Tencent are investing up to $80 billion in their B2B infrastructure, including telemedicine. So we wanted to be part of that and to really collaborate on that.

"Concretely we’re working on an application for heart-failure patients post-discharge, when you’ve been sent back home. How do you ensure a seamless transition once you’re out of the hospital? We're already launched in more than 150 hospitals and expanding pretty fast."

Novartis's partnership strategy isn't limited to big names. The company has also continued to invest in its Novartis Biome accelerators, expanding the program from the U.S. to include the U.K., India and France.

"We realized we’re not easy to work with," Bodson said. "We realized part of it was regulation, part of it was getting in our own way. We have too many interfaces. So we started treating startups and external partners truly as our customers. ... The Biome is really the home for startups to be able to work with us in a very collaborative and streamlined way."

Bodson didn't address the conclusion of the company's relationship with Pear Therapeutics, but it's clear that the experience has not soured the company on working with startups or on its focus on digital innovation, which Bodson says has only been accelerated by the pandemic.

"It feels like we’ve done more in the last five months than we were meant to do in the last two years," he said. "It’s really all coming together."


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