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Paul McGettigan

Director, Data Science, Novartis

Learn how artificial intelligence (AI) can tackle some of the biggest challenges when it comes to tasks such as drug discovery and data analysis.

Ireland is one of the many countries embracing the pace of change delivered by the advances in AI technology, and the Irish Government is investing 47 million euros over the next five years to fund the Enterprise Ireland Technology Gateway Programme to harvest innovation across the country.[1]

AI revolutionising drug research

Ireland published a National AI Strategy three years ago and has a strong tech and digital ecosystem due to the significant number of tech companies that are located here. Novartis is prioritising AI to understand disease and drug targets better. The technology is expected to help scientists save valuable research time that would have previously taken days or weeks to extract and summarise information in documents such as patents, scientific publications and trial data.

Paul McGettigan, who leads the company’s data science AI programme in Dublin, reflects on how the advent of AI changed his outlook and ambitions as he celebrates 30 years as a scientist. “Throughout my career, I’ve tried to stay close to where the action is — at least in areas where I feel I can make a productive contribution. It was exciting to be part of the internet revolution in the dot-com days. I would say it is even more thrilling to see where AI will take us as this opportunity could change our industry significantly,” he says.

Accelerating drug discovery and delivery

There are opportunities to apply AI, machine learning and data science techniques across the entire care pathway — from early drug discovery to development, manufacturing and supply chain. The industry is witnessing increasing applications of AI to gain insights from real-world data that can inform future research and development.[2]

McGettigan adds: “The process of taking a drug from hypothesis to clinical trials is a very long one, so it is still too early to detect the full impact of AI on this process. From the projects my teammates and I participate in, I can see that AI has great potential in the research space. AI techniques will help our teams identify novel targets and higher quality molecules more rapidly, for example, and ultimately increase the likelihood of success in later stages of a project.”

There are opportunities to apply AI, machine
learning and data science techniques
across the entire care pathway.

Augmenting the workforce

The addition of AI-enhanced production does not mean the displacement of human workers. Instead, it enhances teams’ abilities to perform their roles. Employees are equipped with advanced tools that augment their capabilities, improving their decision-making and allowing them to focus on more complex and creative aspects of their work. This shift promotes a culture of continuous learning and development.

This is not a process that can be done alone. Novartis is collaborating with Ireland-based Deciphex, allowing the utilisation of AI to develop tools to better detect and measure tissue lesions more accurately, which can enhance the drug discovery and development processes.

AI transforming pharmaceutical operations

AI is a tool and a catalyst for transformation in the pharmaceutical industry. At Novartis in Ireland, it is driving efficiency, precision and speed improvements, enhancing the company’s ability to serve patients better. As McGettigan aptly puts it, the advent of AI has been an industry-changing opportunity paving the way for a future where advanced technology and human ingenuity work hand in hand to achieve remarkable outcomes.

[2] AI for social good in sustainable development goals | McKinsey

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