Novartis has joined the race to harnessing the power of data for the benefit of patients. “We are experiencing a data science revolution that we need to harness,” says Dr. Luca Finelli, who is leading the Predictive Analytics & Design group within Global Drug Development. His team has developed a new platform called Nerve Live, which uses the latest advances in computing technology and is designed to help Novartis leverage its huge data pool. “In reality, we are a data company,” Dr. Finelli explains. “We are used to generating and working with huge amounts of data, analyzing it, and using this knowledge to research and develop new therapies. If we are able to bring our data into one place and tap into the latest computing technologies, we can generate new insights that in the past were difficult to obtain because our data was locked in silos.”
Efforts to build an advanced analytics platform started in 2015, and following the creation of the Global Drug Development, or GDD, organization in 2016 brought data related to the past and present global clinical trial programs of Novartis, numbering close to 500, under one roof for the first time.
Over the past few years, digital healthcare has grown exponentially. The amount of data collected by the industry has increased by almost 50% every year. It is set to continue its substantial rise as computing services become more powerful and cost-effective. Just take genome sequencing: While it took about 10 months and cost about USD 10 million to sequence a human genome in 2007, the same process today takes about 24 hours and costs in the range of USD 1 000 or less. Thus, the idea of digital technologies becoming ubiquitous with broader leadership in healthcare has become ingrained into Novartis GDD. “It was not an easy journey,” recalls Dr. Finelli. “Our team had to rethink how we integrate, analyze and use our data.”
Building a big data platform
First, the team had to build a so-called data lake. As part of this effort, the team had to replicate the operational data of GDD into a single system, which today sits on a Novartis-owned cloud. Even this first step was far from easy because the proposed platform architecture was not a Novartis standard. The data also had to be integrated because it was locked in domain-specific silos owned by different teams, displayed inconsistencies and was difficult to access.
Next, the team worked on generating an advanced analytics engine to process the data and distill new, actionable insights from it. “This is the brain of Nerve Live,” Dr. Finelli says. “With this system we can now apply the latest machine learning or cognitive computing algorithms to answer questions that have business value and bring our data to life.” In a nutshell, these new algorithms can use past and current data to make performance predictions that could enable users to take preventive corrective action and make better informed and faster decisions.