BioPharma Health Tech,

Novartis taps Amazon Web Services to beef up manufacturing efficiency

The Swiss drugmaker plans to use AWS technology in ‘insight centers’ that the Seattle-based tech giant said would allow better monitoring of production lines, as well as experimentation with new models to increase production of personalized medicines.

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A Swiss drugmaker is beefing up its digital infrastructure with the help of a major U.S. internet services company.

Seattle-based Amazon’s cloud computing arm, Amazon Web Services, said Wednesday that it had teamed up with Basel, Switzerland-based Novartis as part of a multi-year partnership that Amazon said would change the way medicines are manufactured and delivered.

A significant part of the collaboration will involve “insight centers” that the company said would allow better forecasting and tracking of production lines, detection of manufacturing bottlenecks and making recommendations for adjustments to improve accuracy. AWS services will allow Novartis to collect inventory, quality and production data and then apply internet-of-things, analytics and machine learning technology to help drive efficiencies. In addition, the centralization of data will allow Novartis’ data scientists to experiment with new optimization models that will help increase production of hard-to-make personalized medicines, Amazon said.

While the AWS announcement didn’t specify them by name, Novartis’ suite of such medicines includes the gene therapy Zolgensma (onasemnogene abeparvovec-xioi), for spinal muscular atrophy, and the cell therapy Kymriah (tisagenlecleucel), for acute lymphoblastic leukemia and diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, both of which involve highly complex manufacturing processes.

“I’m really proud of how the teams are working together on the ground to bring Amazon-like user experiences to our associates,” Novartis Chief Digital Officer Bertrand Bodson said in a statement. “There is a lot we can learn from the AWS team, and while manufacturing is a great starting place, we’re keen to also explore where else we can apply this technology.”

The challenges that drove Novartis to adopt AWS are threefold and affect multiple drugmakers: the difficulty manufacturing biologics, the need to reduce costs associated with manufacturing small-molecule drugs in danger of losing patent protection, and the challenges of manufacturing genetically engineered medicines for small numbers of patients.

“For many of our customers the ultimate goal is an automated system that responds in real time to all relevant information,” read a post on AWS blog by Shez Partovi, the company’s head of healthcare, life sciences and genomics, and Ian Meyers, a head of technology and global accounts.

Several other companies have also used AWS, including Amgen, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Moderna Therapeutics, according to the company’s website. Partovi and Meyers wrote in the blog post that the Novartis partnership was distinct in its “broad strategic approach to transformation.” Companies outside of the biotechnology and pharmaceutical space have tapped the internet giant as well, such as Kansas City, Missouri-based health IT company Cerner, which signed a deal with the Seattle company in July.

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