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Digital learnings and modality visions: Novartis’ CEO on where R&D is headed

Novartis’ Narasimhan: digital is already paying off in ops, but there are big unknowns in what it can do for R&D

By C. Simone Fishburn, Editor in Chief

While the most high profile event on Novartis’ digital health front last year was arguably its retreat from the Pear deal, CEO Vasant Narasimhan still counts going big on data and digital science as one of the pharma’s top priorities. The lesson, he says, is that commercialization of digital therapies won’t fit into the traditional paradigm and will require a completely new go-to-market model.

Narasimhan sees digital technologies becoming a core part of R&D in the industry over the next decade, and modalities like cell therapies, gene therapies, CAR Ts and CRISPR ending up as tools that sit alongside small molecules and biologics, to be deployed with the same ease, as the science demands.

BioCentury sat down with Narasimhan on Dec. 4 for a broad-ranging discussion on the state of biopharma and his outlook for the industry, as well as for Novartis AG (NYSE:NVS; SIX:NOVN). In the first two of the three-part series Narasimhan shared his perspectives on drug pricing and other policy issues; how China fits into his growth strategy; and the need for reimbursement reform in the U.S. (see “Narasimhan Calls for Value-Based Pricing -- And Access,” and “China a Priority for Novartis’ Narasimhan”).

In this last installment, Narasimhan discusses his views on how digital technologies and data science will transform R&D, from already established improvements in operations, to healthy signs that genomics and proteomics can be leveraged to create original products, to a big unknown -- whether AI will yield tractable new knowledge for target discovery.

“Will it just be one

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