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Novartis Is Fast Becoming a Data Science Company

January 29th, 2019


A year ago, the leader of one the largest pharmaceutical firms in the world said it was transforming itself into a medicines and data science company.

Ever since, Novartis has been hiring data scientists from outside the industry to mine what CEO Vas Narasimhan described as a "goldmine" of data from thousands of studies and trials. In an interview earlier this month, PharmExec discussed this transformation and how the new talent "is fueling a cultural change that is set to define the future of the drugmaker’s data science activities."

Speaking with two of the key players in Novartis's data science push, PharmExec found the company is using its vast datasets in all areas of drug discovery, trial planning, manufacturing, commercial operations and talent management. Culturally, it's a big shift. In the past, individual discoveries were lauded. Now, recognition is given to "teams that systemically solve problems and design innovations that scale."

Recognizing that digitalization inevitably involves some missteps, Miriam Donaldson, head of HR Digital, says it's important to be comfortable with failure. "You have to be excited to experiment, learn from what works and what doesn’t and then act on it. You have to do it quickly and build solutions that you can scale."

That's not the culture at Novartis, she acknowledges, making culture change a key part of the transformation. It not only involves the typical worker, but it means teaching leaders how to manage differently. The company is doing this in a variety of ways, including developing Digital Immersion for Leaders, a program that walks them different scenarios and presents them with leadership challenges.

This year, Novartis will move even more quickly, hiring more data professionals and analysts. More tools will be introduced to speed the transformation with the ambitious goal of enabling leaders to visualize alternatives and options to make better and faster decisions.

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