Last Monday, I argued that renewed investment in research and development would be the pharmaceutical industry’s surest route back to prosperity. An investment that Novartis (Basel) made a few days later indicated that the company seems to agree with me. What’s more, the investment will create new jobs in the US.
Here’s the scoop: Novartis will spend $600 million over the next five years to expand its global research headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The expansion will occur on a four-acre parcel that the company is leasing from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). It will add more than 400,000 ft2 to the company’s campus, including laboratory and office space. Novartis’s investment also will create 300 new jobs.
The high caliber of MIT’s minds, and the school’s record of innovation, have attracted several pharmaceutical companies to Massachusetts. Among MIT’s recent achievements is an improvement in ranking algorithms that predict drug candidates’ success. Algorithms traditionally apply numerous mathematical functions to a drug candidate’s data, and each function produces a numerical score for the candidate. But rather than examining a drug candidate’s scores individually, as algorithms usually do, MIT researchers’ algorithm evaluates pairs of scores. This strategy has enabled the algorithm to predict candidates’ success or failure more consistently than traditional algorithms.
Novartis’s latest investment is good news on many levels. It will create local jobs, and it could help Novartis discover promising new medicines. If it used MIT’s algorithm, Novartis could focus more precisely on drug candidates that have the best chance of success, potentially saving money that might have been wasted on failed projects. Novartis’s investment should remind the industry that discovery and innovation are its bread and butter. And MIT’s algorithm holds out hope that discovery and development need not be as hard as they now seem.