Novartis, Oxford’s Big Data Institute Team to Better Understand, Treat Complex Diseases

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by Jonathan Grinstein |

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Oxford’s Big Data Institute

Novartis and the University of Oxford’s Big Data Institute (BDI) have established an alliance to advance the use of medical data for spotting disease patterns and assessing patients’ responses to treatment. The initiative seeks to enable more informed clinical decision-making and improve the development of treatments for complex diseases.

Focused on the study of inflammatory diseases, such as multiple sclerosis and psoriasis, the alliance hopes to advance how ultra-large and multiple datasets are analyzed, combined, and interpreted.

For this purpose, the five-year collaboration will use BDI’s artificial intelligence machine learning and expertise in advanced analytics, combined with Novartis’ clinical expertise and clinical trial data.

The goal is to identify patterns in complex diseases, often across multiple data sources and types (i.e., imaging, genomics, and clinical data), which cannot be detected by humans alone. The team also will try to better understand these diseases, and what drives their progression.

Anonymized clinical information from relevant Novartis clinical trials in inflammatory diseases, together with data from about five million patients from the U.K. and international partner organizations, will be analyzed.

“Our collaboration with Novartis will enable both organizations to transform the scale and efficiency of clinical research at an unprecedented rate through the sharing of data, technology, and advanced analytics expertise,” Gil McVean, PhD, director of BDI, said in a press release.

“The Big Data Institute enables people and projects to span traditional boundaries and scientific disciplines, and leverage technological innovation for the benefit of patients,” McVean added.

The collaboration will begin with two flagship programs within Novartis’ Global Drug Development organization: multiple sclerosis, and dermatology and rheumatology.

Concerning multiple sclerosis, the alliance will try to unlock new disease insights based on clinical and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data from more than 35,000 patients. The goal is to better understand disease progression and patients’ responses to treatment.

The resulting data will help inform more efficient trials, and potentially improve the prognosis of MS patients.

Regarding the dermatology and rheumatology program, the alliance intends to predict early patients’ response, and improve the health outcomes across several diseases, including psoriasis and rheumatoid arthritis.

“Our work with the Big Data Institute will enable us to combine different types of data such as clinical, imaging and genomics, and use advanced analytical capabilities to change how we look at diseases and discover new insights,” said John Tsai, head of global drug development and chief medical officer at Novartis. “This has the potential to transform how we design and conduct our clinical development programs of the future.”

The collaboration between BDI and Novartis also will involve the expertise of other partners. Both the Medical Research Council Harwell Institute and Oxford’s department of statistics will play key roles by contributing their expertise in analyzing big data and machine learning.

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