Novartis and the University of Oxford’s Big Data Institute to improve drug development

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Novartis and the University of Oxford’s Big Data Institute to establish research alliance using artificial intelligence to understand complex diseases and improve drug development.

Novartis has announced a five-year collaboration with the University of Oxford’s Big Data Institute (BDI) to establish a research alliance that will improve drug development by making it more efficient and more targeted. Using artificial intelligence (AI) and advanced analytics, the partners expect to transform how ultra large and multiple datasets are analysed, combined and interpreted to identify early predictors of patient responses to treatments for inflammatory diseases, such as multiple sclerosis (MS) and psoriasis.

The alliance will make use of anonymised data from approximately five million patients from the UK and international partner organisations, together with anonymised data captured from relevant Novartis clinical trials. Using the BDI’s latest statistical machine learning technology and experience in data analysis, combined with Novartis’ wealth of clinical expertise and clinical trial data, the alliance expects to predict how patients will respond to existing and new medicines.

Furthermore, through the development of an innovative IT environment and AI technology, the alliance will work to identify patterns in data, often across multiple data sources and types (imaging, genomics, clinical and biological), which cannot be detected by humans alone. Novartis and the BDI will also identify unprecedented insights into the characteristics of specific, complex diseases to understand what drives disease progression, and understand any commonalities between diseases.

The alliance will focus initially on two flagship programs within Novartis’ Global Drug Development (GDD) organisation, gaining scientific insights in multiple sclerosis (MS), dermatology and rheumatology that would not be possible without this collaboration. Furthermore, the alliance allows for knowledge exchange and access to a broader network of scientific talent across the two organisations.

The alliance will also draw on the expertise of other partners throughout the duration of the collaboration. The Medical Research Council (MRC) Harwell Institute will play a key role by contributing their expertise in informatics and carrying out data wrangling (the process of converting and mapping data from its raw form to another format with the purpose of making it more valuable for the task). Oxford’s Department of Statistics will also be central to the collaboration, providing their expertise and experience in statistical machine learning.

“Our work with the Big Data Institute will enable us to combine different types of data such as clinical, imaging and genomics, and use advanced analytical capabilities to change how we look at diseases and discover new insights,” said John Tsai, Head of Global Drug Development and Chief Medical Officer at Novartis. “This has the potential to transform how we design and conduct our clinical development programs of the future.”

“Our collaboration with Novartis will enable both organisations to transform the scale and efficiency of clinical research at an unprecedented rate though the sharing of data, technology, and advanced analytics expertise,” said Professor Gil McVean, Director of the Big Data Institute. “The BDI enables people and projects to span traditional boundaries and scientific disciplines, and leverage technological innovation for the benefit of patients.”

“This partnership with the BDI is aligned with the UK’s Life Sciences Industrial Strategy and offers the opportunity to expand our understanding and capabilities in data science at scale. As a leading medicines company driven by data and digital, Novartis expects the collaboration with the BDI to enhance its capabilities in data science and analytics.” said Mark Toms, Chief Scientific Officer, Novartis UK.