Novartis' digital transformation continues apace with Amazon supply chain tie-up

Novartis
Novartis hopes Amazon Web Services will help it optimize its small-batch and personalized medicine production and supply chain as it builds out its cell therapy manufacturing base with its first Kymriah site outside the U.S. (Novartis)

Not long after announcing a wide-ranging partnership with Microsoft to bring artificial intelligence tools to every desk across its R&D departments, Novartis is now teaming up with Amazon’s mammoth cloud computing division to overhaul its manufacturing, supply and business operations.

The new multiyear collaboration with Amazon Web Services dovetails with the drugmaker’s directives to embrace and incorporate digital technology at every point in its product pipeline and value chain.

AWS aims to supply the company with an enterprisewide data analytics platform, including AI and machine learning services, as well as cloud-based “Insight Centers” that will provide real-time metrics to Novartis’ global technical operations staff.

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These centers will focus on tracking manufacturing lines and detecting bottlenecks as well as forecasting potential issues in quality and inventory. Novartis hopes this will allow for new, optimized production models, as the company looks to scale up its work in challenging-to-make personalized medicines such as Zolgensma and Kymriah.

Most recently, company opened a new cell and gene therapy manufacturing facility last week in Stein, Switzerland, providing a European base of operations for tailored therapies. Previously, Novartis had to rely on back-and-forth flights across the Atlantic to service patients on the continent, with its sole Kymriah-producing facility being located in New Jersey.

RELATED: Novartis to put AI on every employee's desk through Microsoft partnership

Novartis also plans to use AWS’ internet of things and computer vision offerings to help improve its manufacturing inspections, by digitally scanning images of sites and tracking individual items to spot for potential risks or delays.

“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,” Novartis’ chief digital officer, Bertrand Bodson, said in a statement.

“Using data science and digital technologies to reimagine the way we manufacture medicines is not only at the heart of our transformation, but also core to our ambition to bring innovative medicines to patients faster,” Bodson added.

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Novartis currently operates more than 60 manufacturing sites worldwide, producing treatments used by nearly 1 billion people. Through its partnership with AWS, the drugmaker hopes to develop standard metrics for site efficiency, deliverable on a single dashboard illustrating global performance.

The company has already been using Amazon’s computer vision products to double-check that batch manufacturing lines are clear and cleaned after use, and prepared to begin their next scheduled set of tasks. Novartis is also employing AI to extract and analyze data from printed manufacturing documents.

The forthcoming site-based Insight Centers look to make these data available in real time to help avoid unnecessary inventory and machine downtime when producing small-batch and personalized treatments.

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