"We seek star researchers, pioneers in their fields"

Dr. Tamar Alon   credit: Cadya Levy
Dr. Tamar Alon credit: Cadya Levy

Novartis’s Dr. Tamar Alon and Dr. Evan M. Beckman talk about the types of research that can drive the company's growth.

Novartis employs 5,200 scientists and invests $3.6 billion annually in research, says Dr. Tamar Alon, Global Head, Early Strategic Partnerships, External Innovation at Novartis, adding that in recent years, several platforms have been launched for collaboration with academic researchers.

"Our scientists identify who’s interesting"

"We established a network called Novartis Global Scholars, with the participation of 60 institutions from 13 countries, including Israel. Over the last four years, we issued four calls for proposals for special projects in scientific fields of strategic interest to the company, and as a result, we selected twenty academic collaborations in which we invested approximately $1 million each, and they’ve already yielded scientific articles."

Another program is intended to map world science proactively, aided by Novartis scientists. "Our scientists identify the entities that are most interesting for collaboration, and we offer them a fairly long-term program for product and insight discovery with us. We are looking for global stars, pioneers in their fields, who also think creatively."

In another program, the Early Impact Fund, the company selects projects and invests 50% of the scientific activity budget. In its first year of activity alone, Novartis has signed five such collaboration agreements.

Alon listed the areas where the company is looking for academic collaboration, including metabolic, autoimmune, and neurological diseases, and also defined an area of growth where Novartis is not yet established: DAx: exploratory research of serious and sometimes rare diseases for which there are currently no cures, especially kidney and liver diseases, and degenerative diseases of aging.

"Gathering information and drawing conclusions"

Speaking in a video lecture, Dr. Evan M. Beckman, Global Head of Translational Medicine at the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research, shed light on the research activity that takes place within the company itself. His division is responsible for gathering the accumulated research knowledge and considering how it might be turned into medicine.

"We are in the midst of a program called data42, which is designed to collect all the data we have from clinical trials, as well as information from monitoring the use of our drugs in the real world , and information from the public sphere, in order to draw conclusions, for example, what causes a trial to go wrong or which trial sites are the most effective," he said, adding that the company was currently examining wearable devices for use in measuring treatment efficacy.

Beckman also spoke about a significant technological breakthrough. Until now, the molecular-based understanding within the pharma sector was that some cellular receptors (proteins) could not be accessed by chemical drug therapies, rendering these drug treatments unsuitable, "Today, there are technologies that make it possible to influence the protein ‘remotely,’ through attachment to another site, other than the affected site," he says. "In this way, we can attack many more types of diseases with classic small molecules."

Novartis and Globes collaborated on coverage of the conference in accordance with editorial criteria and considerations of interest to Globes readers. The conference was held with the cooperation of healthtech and life sciences investment fund aMoon and Startup Nation Central.

Dr. Tamar Alon   credit: Cadya Levy
Dr. Tamar Alon credit: Cadya Levy
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