Hunting for Tech Ties, a Swiss Drugmaker Goes to Silicon Valley

Novartis AG is looking to strengthen its ties with tech startups as giants like Apple Inc., Google and Inc. advance rapidly into the health-care field.

The Swiss drugmaker is setting up innovation labs in cities around the world, starting with San Francisco, Chief Digital Officer Bertrand Bodson said in a phone interview. As part of the new project called the Novartis Biome, the company is collaborating with outfits including Mekonos, a developer of cell- and gene-therapy technology, and Medable, a digital health firm. Both are based in the Silicon Valley town of Palo Alto, California.

“Technology, data and science are all starting to come together,” Bodson said. “You see it with the moves from Google, Microsoft and Amazon, and also a lot of startups and entrepreneurs. But health care is not an easy space to crack.”

On one side, drugmakers are pushing to become faster and more efficient as the costs of research rise and pressure increases to produce drugs that make a noticeable difference in people’s lives. The tech titans at the same time see a significant opportunity to develop new tools based on artificial intelligence and mobile technology that give companies a window on patients’ needs and responses to drugs.

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