Unblocked and Unbossed: How Novartis is Reimagining Medicine

As a leading international pharmaceutical company, Novartis is redefining its approach to developing and delivering innovative products. This initiative aims to tackle some of the most challenging diseases effectively.  

“We organize around four areas including Cardiovascular, Renal and Metabolic (CRM), Immunology, Neuroscience, and Oncology globally. In Taiwan, primarily cardiovascular and cancer are the key focus, which happen to also be the two biggest causes of premature death locally,” says Novartis Country President Frances Milnes.  

To this end, Novartis is pioneering the introduction of novel treatments to patients, including cell therapy, which uses a patient’s own cells for treatment; gene therapy, replacing a disease-causing gene with a healthy copy of the gene to treat the disease; and radioligand therapy, where a targeted radioactive drug is administered intravenously to target and kill cancer cells.  

Novartis’ groundbreaking innovations have garnered prestigious recognition at the highest echelons of leadership. President Tsai Ing-wen received the company at the Presidential Office after it won the National Biotechnology & Medical Care Quality Gold Award, a clear demonstration of Novartis’ exceptional contributions to the field.  

“It was a wonderful opportunity to share our perspective of the excellent healthcare ecosystem in Taiwan, with our perspective on the improvements needed,” says Milnes. “It’s a great market where multinational companies can launch the latest technologies, thanks to top-tier key opinion leaders and medical experts that can deal with highly innovative treatments. We just hope that in the future, patients don’t have to wait as long for innovation to be fully funded.”  

Novartis is a primary sponsor of the Alliance & Partnerships for Patient Innovation & Solutions (APPIS), which has been convened annually for the past four years. The initiative aims to facilitate comprehensive dialogues focused on fostering meaningful partnerships that tackle obstacles to patient access, enhancing healthcare equity, and prioritizing initiatives that enhance health outcomes. 

The 2024 APPIS, held in March, saw participation from 13 patient advocacy groups, academics, and healthcare professionals from Taiwan, totaling 40 attendees. Key topics covered during the event included Health Literacy, Health Policy Shaping, and Future Readiness. 

The company integrates patients into the initial planning phases of its clinical trials to ascertain their necessity and to ensure a patient-friendly experience throughout. Presently, Novartis is overseeing 77 trials in Taiwan, constituting an R&D investment valued at NT$400 million. 

As a multinational corporation, Novartis knows that in other markets, patients are often involved at earlier stages in healthcare decision-making compared to Taiwan – a disparity the company aims to address. Novartis looks to rectify this by forging partnerships with grassroots patient associations and maintaining transparent and open communication with policymakers.  

“We’re encouraged by the government’s willingness to listen to the system through programs like the Healthy Taiwan Forum series,” says Milnes. “The new government has started off by listening on the ground, what’s working and what’s not working. My hope for the future is a focus on improving health outcomes and patient quality of life instead of looking at healthcare as a cost.”   

While Taiwan often ranks high for healthcare satisfaction, outcomes have started to slip behind Japan and South Korea, neighboring markets that are often used as a benchmark. “By focusing on improving outcomes, taking an evidence-based approach to solve these issues, and rewarding physicians and hospitals that improve outcomes could really move the needle,” says Milnes.  

Harnessing its expansive footprint across diverse markets, Novartis’ Asia Pacific, Middle East, and Africa region initiated the Unblocked Movement in 2023 with partners to “unblock” barriers to heart health, including an MOU with Taiwan’s National Health Insurance Administration to develop a care model for atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease prevention and lipid management.  

Besides partnering with external stakeholders, the company also launched a competition to motivate its employees to prioritize physical activity. A remarkable 45,000 physical activities were logged by over 1,500 participating employees. Additionally, as part of the Unblocked Challenge, all employees underwent screening for cholesterol.  

“Everybody at Novartis Taiwan knows their cholesterol numbers,” Milnes says. “When you know your numbers, you can have an informed discussion with your physician. That’s what we hope for every patient – to be informed and empowered to take ownership of their entire healthcare journey.”   

The company demonstrates its commitment to empowerment, whether for patients or employees, through its “unbossed” philosophy. This approach encourages employees to take ownership of their work, while also minimizing the hierarchical distance between management and staff.  

“When you remove hierarchy and leadership is approachable, new ideas and solutions can come to the forefront,” Milnes says. “Often, some of the best ideas can come from the newest members of the team.”  Besides unbossed, ‘inspire’ and ‘curious’ are also aspects of Novartis’ culture and bringing out the best in its employees to reimagine medicine that improves and extends people’s lives.