The Big Interview: Novartis CTO Elizabeth Theophille

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“One of our big focuses for the future 4-6 several years will be to refresh our SAP landscape which will have to have a full overhaul…”

Pharmaceuticals’ moment in the sun arguably arrived with COVID-19, when an sector usually demonised as “Big Pharma” started attracting broader recognition as a genuinely modern just one that is central to battling to the pandemic and just one which will be at the coronary heart of responding to any other upcoming community wellbeing crises.

Pharma has drawn fresh new focus from those working in the tech sector as a end result. The plan of marrying an mental obstacle with a social excellent — reverse engineering a laptop or computer virus, and executing the identical to a genuine virus to find ways in which to restore a procedure to wellbeing is amongst the noticeable parallels — appears to have struck a chord across the tech globe some thing born out by current surveys. (The actuality that it is a massively profitable sector equipped to remunerate expertise properly may perhaps also assist.)

That change in community sentiment was tidily captured in a survey of two,five hundred technologies professionals — in China, Germany, India, the United kingdom, and the US — by Switzerland’s Novartis, conducted in Could and June 2020: this observed that 72% of tech professionals are far more possible to contemplate pharma for their future task in contrast to 6 months back. (The survey also recommended that healthcare and pharmaceuticals have been now far more than twice as eye-catching as financial services, telecoms and manufacturing to tech expertise.)

System operators in a clean space. Production facility for modern mobile and gene therapies in Stein, Switzerland. Credit: Novartis

Novartis CTO: “We’re all fishing in the identical pond”

They’re required: across the sector, massive perform is underway to innovate: as Bertrand Bodson, CDO of Novartis, puts it: “COVID-19 has caused a seismic change in the adoption and scaling of digital technologies in our sector, at a tempo by no means noticed ahead of.”

Novartis’ Elizabeth Theophille, Head of Technological innovation, Architecture and Digital (a de facto CTO part) is amongst those who created the change from other sectors. Earlier Team CIO at Nokia, she admits she realized tiny about pharma when she joined the firm: “I was possibly some of the initially tranches when Novartis have been wanting for tech professionals that by no means experienced a healthcare background”, she informed Personal computer Business Critique in a simply call.

“We’re staying far more open up to find expertise from other industries, due to the fact we’re all fishing in the identical pond when it will come to getting excellent people today: engineers, details scientists people today that can make and architect cloud methods and assist business transformation.”

Talking from Paris, she painted a image of a numerous workforce at the firm, working on several overlapping details science, automation and cloud engineering challenges: “I have a workforce of about 300 associates. I have a massive workforce of architects I have a workforce of details scientists I have a workforce of automation professionals: a myriad of techniques across my corporation – and they occur from different backgrounds as properly.”

Cloud-run innovation 

It’s a big transition for an sector prolonged-noticed as deeply conservative and threat averse. Section of that change has occur with an expanding openness to the cloud, which has aided break down inside siloes and lessen specialized debt, she indicates.

As CTO, Theophille notes: “I am also main the architecture, style and make of the ‘Novartis Enterprise Data and Analytics Platform’ which is a multi-cloud system run by AWS & Azure.  This system will keep our vast amounts of details across Novartis that the business will use for new insights and decisions…”)

“I think a big transformation has been around working with cloud Platform-as-a-Provider (PaaS) to make new methods we could really start out to get better insights and selections from the details that we put on the cloud, no matter if that was business details, marketing details, clinical trials and so on. We’ve also been constructing a great deal far more customer knowledge purposes on the cloud. There has been a big transform in state of mind [at Novartis] around sharing details at an company stage, rather of preserving that on your own devoted server. There is a great deal far more have confidence in in in how we collaborate as an organisation.”

New (as of 2018) Novartis CEO Vasant Narasimhan has been vocal on this, and the need to have to make larger use of details. The company’s 2019 once-a-year report [pdf] captured some of his wondering, alongside with the actuality that the business has now collected roughly two million affected person several years of details as a result of clinical trials by yourself.

As Narasimhan famous: “We’re having measures to make the most of this strategic asset. In 2019, we expanded and released important details and digital initiatives even though forming new collaborations to augment our rising inside abilities.”

He additional: “We’re integrating enormous amounts of details that previously existed in silos inside of and outside the firm and having a holistic search at it. The details ranges from images of cells that have been addressed with different substances, to blood samples from sufferers analyzed within just clinical trials. We’re working with machine learning and synthetic intelligence to mine the built-in, anonymized details for connections and designs that are indiscernible to the human mind. Our details scientists are constructing versions and purposes that will empower Novartis groups to check with new concerns, make better predictions and help you save time. We can use the system to prioritize drug targets, establish progress prospects for compounds, and far more.

Novartis CTO: Offer chain setting up is a rising portion of the part

“To make getting of schedule provides far more efficient, we are standardizing requirements and consolidating suppliers. The illustration of laboratory gloves illustrates our development: We went from one hundred different styles of laboratory gloves around the globe to just fourteen, and from 55 suppliers to just one, saving USD .six million. We are also constructing a database to deliver a far more detailed look at of our buying and are starting to use details analytics to assist us better regulate what we acquire, when and from whom.”

That is a big concentration for CTO Elizabeth Theophille, who informed us: “I have a big concentration ideal now on how we do need setting up for offer chain how we search at our interactions with HCPs (healthcare professionals) and the knowledge that they get, primarily when they be part of Novartis activities. I also search at how we simplify the way we regulate content material from a digital asset administration perspective and how we approve all of our resources that commercially get extended to HCPs. And I’m just wanting at how we can use technologies and business course of action to to transform the way we perform.”

“We have robots alive and kicking”

This contains overhauling the finance operate: “We have started to make robots working with Microsoft Azure: working with this to essentially bring collectively computer software automation and to simplify lots of of the intricate procedures that we have at Novartis.

“We have robots dwell alive and kicking at Novartis – most of them are executing a great deal of automation in our financial services region. We’ve also automatic the pharmacovigilance procedures the place, you know, we have to report adverse events”

What’s the big pending task then?

“Every year we evaluation our Technological innovation Outlooks dependent on the business strategy and new rising tech. In my part I own Technological innovation Refresh and assess new rising technologies.  One particular of our big focuses for the future four – six several years will be to refresh our SAP landscape which will have to have a full overhaul in business course of action transformation, technologies upgrades and new ways of working…”

(CTOs and CIOs globally will recognise the head aches that can occur with this — and the temptation to depart it to final in massive digital transformation checklist).

“This is an wonderful time for the digital transformation of wellbeing care”, she concludes. “It’s truly been a amazing journey in excess of the past couple of several years. We’ve invested a major amount of funds, and [cast] partnerships with Microsoft, AWS and other organisations to assist us remodel working with their cloud technologies to analyse our details and bring our details collectively and to make details science and AI versions.

“The pharmaceutical sector is certainly necessary to assist sufferers. So it’s it’s really critical that we get a range of awareness and knowledge from other industries that can assist us speed up this digital transformation.”

See also: The Significant Interview – Previous GCHQ Director Robert Hannigan