Novartis cozies up to Silicon Valley with new lab

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Novartis is set to open innovation labs around the world to connect with tech companies. The labs, the first of which has opened in San Francisco, will serve as a bridge between companies developing R&D-enhancing technologies and the broader Novartis business.

Switzerland’s Novartis hit upon the idea after identifying a gap in the technology development and adoption process. Tech companies, from Alphabet, Amazon and Apple down to startups, are working on products and services that could improve R&D and other parts of the biopharma industry. But these companies can be disconnected from organizations that will use their technologies, depriving them of input that could ensure they meet the needs of potential customers such as Novartis.

“Healthcare is not an easy space to crack,” Novartis’ chief digital officer Bertrand Bodson told Bloomberg.

Novartis unveiled its fix for the problem, dubbed Novartis Biome, in a blog post and video Monday. The big unveil was preceded by months of work. According to his LinkedIn profile, Mohanad Fors has held the title of head of Novartis Biome since November. And members of the Biome team had a stand at TechCrunch Disrupt SF last month.

The team used the TechCrunch event to unveil the winners of its first HealthX World Series challenge. The challenge tasked developers with creating digital technologies that improve the monitoring, management and prediction of heart failure.

One of the winners of the challenge, Veta Health, is among the first set of companies to work with Biome. Novartis is also working with Mekonos, a cell and gene therapy startup that wants to replace viral vectors with a “silicon-based nano-robotic system.”

Novartis will provide work space, share data and assign mentors to the companies it works with through Biome. These mentors will be people who have seen an opportunity to use a nascent technology at Novartis, putting them in a good position to help their startups design and run validation studies. Novartis may invest in the startups after seeing validation results.

The initiative, which is set to expand beyond San Francisco to cities around the world, provides more evidence of the direction Novartis is heading under Vas Narasimhan. Since taking over as CEO, Narasimhan has put data and the technology to manage it at the heart of his vision for how Novartis will evolve in the years to come.