Through Innovation, Collaboration, and Culture, Novartis Aims to Reimagine Medicine

The healthcare industry is currently undergoing a radical transformation. Patients increasingly have access to better, more personalized treatment options targeting previously intractable illnesses, allowing them to live longer, more fulfilling lives. Yet for Novartis, this hard work is just the beginning of the long journey. While the global healthcare ecosystem continues to flourish, reaching ever more patients and providers, the multinational pharmaceutical firm maintains its purpose of reimagining medicine in all the markets where it operates.

When asked what is meant by “reimagining medicine,” Novartis Taiwan President Jorge Wagner responds that essentially it is “to improve and extend people’s lives.” To accomplish this goal, he says, the company commits itself to maintaining a robust portfolio bolstered by a comprehensive drug pipeline. Globally, Novartis expects to submit over 50 new drug applications between now and 2024 and is currently conducting more than 300 clinical trials.

Wagner adds that reimagining medicine also involves making impressive gains in the development of personalized and precision treatments. Chief among these is gene therapy, which Novartis Taiwan Chief Scientific Officer David Lee describes as “treating the condition at its source.” Compared to most traditional treatment options for severe illnesses, which generally target symptoms, Lee says that gene therapy addresses the fundamental cause of a disease, with the potential of one-time treatment to cure certain conditions. The first license of gene therapy in Taiwan has just been issued by Taiwan FDA for treating Spinal muscular atrophy, a genetic neuromuscular disease in December 2020.

In addition to its ever-expanding portfolio, Novartis continuously seeks to forge strong and long-lasting partnerships with government, industry, and academia in order to create groundbreaking healthcare solutions. In Taiwan, the company has been exploring collaborative opportunities with technology companies and strengthening partnerships with healthcare providers.

In one of Novartis’ most recent collaborative efforts, it teamed up last year with the Europe-Taiwan Biotech Association (ETBA), a non-profit organization established in Zurich Switzerland. With the network of ETBA spanning across biotech, medtech, and digital health industries in Europe and Taiwan, the collaboration accelerates the development of novel digital biomarker solutions that can be adopted in early-stage clinical studies. Novartis has also become strategic partners with Acer, one of the world’s top ICT companies, and supported Acer Healthcare on the license approval and implementation of the first locally developed and TFDA approved ophthalmologic AI solution.  The AI-assisted diagnostic tool for diabetic retinopathy utilizes deep learning techniques to provide diagnostic results similar to what a patient would receive from a professional physician.

None of this innovation and forward movement would be possible without a company culture that actively sustains it. While Novartis continues to work toward its overarching goal of “reimagining medicine,” leaders in the company like Wagner understand that a concurrent culture transformation is critically importance to achieving that objective.

“We aim to foster an environment where people can be fully empowered at work, value diverse perspectives, and ultimately to bring their best self to work every day,” Wagner says. He explains that in order to drive innovation, performance, and reputation, as well as enhance the overall work experience, Novartis has transformed its culture to be more “Inspired, Curious, and Unbossed.”

Wagner says that having “unbossed” employees is critical to Novartis’ success as a major pharmaceutical enterprise. He emphasizes that leadership is able to achieve the company’s objectives through teamwork. “The team members have the best knowledge to know what needs to be done to achieve those objectives and therefore they don’t need a boss as much as an enabler; someone to help them reach their full potential,” he says. To help its employees becoming more “unbossed,” Novartis Taiwan’s office is designed with Activity-Based Workstation; none of the seats is assigned and all employees can choose the seats to suit their best interest of the day. This is the concept of Choice with Responsibility, a principle to reinforce unbossed culture.

Due to COVID-19 pandemic, many companies rethink their work arrangements, Novartis Taiwan has already taken an advance step to let employees to make decisions of where and when to work to be a new norm, beyond the pandemic period.

As the pandemic has impacted people and industries globally, Novartis has continued to deliver value to healthcare systems and to society. For example, the company has become involved in assisting with the production of COVID-19 vaccines. As part of its strong commitment to help resolve the global health crisis, Novartis signed an agreement in late January to leverage its manufacturing capacity in Switzerland to boost the supply of vaccines worldwide.

And while Novartis remains dedicated to helping people everywhere weather the current pandemic, one of the company’s priorities is protecting the health and safety of its employees. Pharmaceutical and healthcare professionals are one of the most at-risk segments of the population, Wagner notes, and ensuring that they remain healthy is crucial to carrying out Novartis’ goal of reimagining medicine.