No­var­tis teams up with Ox­ford re­searchers to crunch big da­ta in­to clin­i­cal in­sights

Since Vas Narasimhan’s Day 1 as CEO of No­var­tis, he has cham­pi­oned da­ta sci­ence and dig­i­tal tech­nolo­gies as a key pri­or­i­ty at the phar­ma gi­ant. Al­most a year in­to his tenure, in a re­cent con­ver­sa­tion with the tech VC firm An­dreessen Horowitz, he high­light­ed the abil­i­ties to an­a­lyze pathol­o­gy im­ages and cen­tral­ize clin­i­cal tri­al plan­ning as two promis­ing ap­pli­ca­tions of ma­chine learn­ing.

But, he ad­mit­ted, there are ar­eas where it’s “sim­ply not met up”:

Vas­ant Narasimhan

The Holy Grail of hav­ing un­struc­tured ma­chine learn­ing go in­to big clin­i­cal da­ta lakes and then sud­den­ly find­ing new in­sights, we’ve not been able to crack, most­ly be­cause the da­ta… to link it up… We are spend­ing a lot of our en­er­gy just try­ing to get all of our da­ta har­mo­nized, so that some al­go­rithm could maybe find any­thing of use.

It ap­pears that No­var­tis is now ready to dive in­to that lake with the help of an es­teemed aca­d­e­m­ic part­ner.

The Swiss drug­mak­er has two projects in mind to kick off the 5-year re­search al­liance with the Big Da­ta In­sti­tute at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Ox­ford. The first one will fo­cus on mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis, lever­ag­ing clin­i­cal and mag­net­ic res­o­nance imag­ing, or MRI, da­ta of 35,000-plus pa­tients in hopes of un­der­stand­ing pat­terns and dis­ease pro­gres­sion. Ul­ti­mate­ly, the com­pa­ny says, the ex­er­cise should make clin­i­cal tri­als more ef­fi­cient and tar­get­ed.

For the sec­ond project, No­var­tis wants the BDI to de­ploy its deep learn­ing al­go­rithm across dif­fer­ent datasets — imag­ing, pro­teom­ic, ge­nom­ic, clin­i­cal — from more than 11,000 pa­tients who have tak­en its in­ter­leukin-17 in­hibitor, Cosen­tyx. The hope is to en­able quick­er di­ag­no­sis and ex­plore com­mon­al­i­ties be­tween dis­eases treat­ed by the drug, in­clud­ing pso­ri­a­sis, pso­ri­at­ic arthri­tis, anky­los­ing spondyli­tis and rheuma­toid arthri­tis.

These in­di­vid­u­als, though, on­ly rep­re­sent a frac­tion of the pool of pa­tients No­var­tis and BDI are pulling da­ta from. With ac­cess to da­ta from UK Biobank, Ge­nomics Eng­land and Chi­na Kadoorie Biobank, the al­liance will draw on a to­tal of 5 mil­lion pa­tients — a num­ber re­flec­tive of No­var­tis’ am­bi­tion to adopt da­ta sci­ence in clin­i­cal re­search at scale, spokesper­son Er­ic Al­thoff tells End­points News in an email.

We asked what the op­er­a­tion will look like on the ground, and here’s their re­sponse:

Ox­ford is build­ing an IT en­vi­ron­ment for the col­lab­o­ra­tion – they will host the en­vi­ron­ment and NVS is sup­port­ing the build.

To­day we have ap­prox 20 peo­ple from Ox­ford and 20 peo­ple from NVS in­volved – this in­cludes da­ta wran­gling ex­perts, da­ta sci­en­tists, sta­tis­ti­cians, IT ex­perts and clin­i­cal ex­perts.

No­var­tis added that oth­er part­ners like the Med­ical Re­search Coun­cil Har­well In­sti­tute and Ox­ford’s De­part­ment of Sta­tis­tics will al­so play a role.


Fea­tured im­age: Ox­ford’s Big Da­ta In­sti­tute. OX­FORD via YOUTUBE

Illustration: Assistant Editor Kathy Wong for Endpoints News

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