BioAsia 2023: 5 stories by Dr Vas Narasimhan that provide source of inspiration to innovate medicines

Dr. Vas Narasimhan, CEO, Novartis, Switzerland in in keynote address shared five stories he hopes will provide a source of inspiration to continue to find medicines for the world

Image- KT Rama Rao, Minister for Industries & Commerce, and Information Technology, Govt. of Telangana felicitated Dr Vas Narasimhan, CEO of Novartis and Guest of Honor, for his contribution to medicine at BioAsia 2023. Dr. Narasimhan also delivered a keynote address inspiring innovation in healthcare.
New Delhi/Hyderabad: On the first day of the 20th edition of BioAsia – the marquee healthcare and Life Sciences event, organized by the Government of Telangana, Dr. Vas Narasimhan, CEO, Novartis, Switzerland in in keynote address shared five stories he hopes will provide a source of inspiration to continue to find medicines for the world.
My story in my words– “Every time I come to Hyderabad; I feel the desire to tell my own story because it is meaningful to me. My family immigrated to Vellore and eventually to Tirupati where my grandfather was a school principal. They were extraordinarily determined to provide their children with full education and were able to do that successfully. My father worked in pharmaceuticals industry in Pune. He eventually, in the 1950s, got an opportunity to intern in Basel. My family thus opened up tremendous opportunities for me. You stand on the shoulders of giants; these are the shoulders I stand on.”
The Story of the miracle that medicine is– “I don’t think we talk enough about what a miracle it is, that we find any medicines at all. A video of a deep-sea vent in the Pacific Ocean. This is where scientists believe life began 2 billion years ago. Through chemical reactions, we saw the first cells. Reflect for a moment, how remarkable it is, that every single cell of every animal and plant, has exactly the same structure. Reflect for a moment what we do when we find medicines. We unlock 2 billion years of evolution that began in these vents, to find single molecules that can change a human being’s life. It is extraordinary that we create these miracles in creating medicines at all.”
Story of Novartis– “The story of Novartis reflects the story of the pharmaceutical industry. We began in the 1700s in Basel in the chemicals industry. We had to constantly transform ourselves from a dye making company to a focused-medicines company. All through the journey of becoming a large health conglomerate. Given the pace of biomedical innovation, we have to focus on keeping up with with technology to create the next wave of healthcare. The relationship between dye making industry and the medical industry is extraordinary. We fundamentally found the first medicines in a chemical making laboratory by accident – chemicals that will change the course of cure for diseases. That’s the story of our industry as well.”
Stories of innovation happening today– “We are in an extraordinary moment in history. Over the last decade we have opened fundamental new areas of medical innovation and therapeutic innovation – cell and gene therapies and others. Today, cardiovascular disease is a leading cause of death and disability on the planet. It is a massive challenge, especially with aging populations. For us to live longer and longer, we have to face the cardiovascular disease at scale. SI RNA (Small Interfering RNA) is a technology that was pioneered in 80s, it was an understanding that RNA not only translates to protein but can modulate the expression to proteins. We can use SI RNAs to challenge cardiovascular diseases. You can take medicines every 6 months and see you can imagine a world where drugs are utilized very infrequently – perhaps once a year. We can take vaccine like approach for cardiovascular diseases. These SI RNA’s can be used at scale and can be made accessible. Possibility exists overtime to tackle cardiovascular disease around the world at a scale never imagined before.”
“Next there is Cancer, it is the 2nd largest cause of death and disability in the world. There are many new therapies like T-Cell therapy, Immuno-oncology, targeted theories open up new opportunities in cancer therapy. Novartis had developed a technology called Radioligand where you can identify the cancer from the pet scan and the idea is to target radiation where the tumor is. The radioactive atoms cluster around cancer cells in a targeted area. Get to a place where we can deliver cures.”
“Then there are neurological diseases, the 3rd largest cause for death and disability. While we have made progress in this space, can we use multiple technologies together to direct things to different parts of the brain? Can you direct RNA to specific tissue in the brain which needs the therapeutic impact?”
“For India, the work of our company and the pharma industry, is to tackle tropical diseases at scale. Another example of the power of when industry can work with communities – Novartis supplies globally the leprosy medication for free. We are reenergizing efforts to ensure that leprosy is not left untreated. Furthermore, India has the largest population of sickle cell disease in the world. Until recently, there weren’t many medicines to treat it. In the new medications, the basics aren’t often in place.”
“There is an opportunity to get patients what they need. Can we collaborate with NGOs to treat sickle cell diseases? As innovation comes, we will bring it in an affordable and accessible basis to India and the world.”
On Data sciences & AI, Dr Narasimhan added: “We don’t have enough data to give the algorithm to solve all problems. Technology cannot replace the human mind. We need humans structure problems and to critically think of problems, and we need technology to enable the humans to work more efficiently.”
Story of Novartis in Hyderabad– “I remember coming here 15 years ago. We were just starting here an idea about building a capacity center in hyd. And it grew & grew & grew. Over the last 5 years, we doubled our presence here. We brought the core of our drug development, data management, patient safety here to Hyderabad. We brought our manufacturing centers, procurement, people management and multiple roles here, sitting here in Hyderabad. Hyderabad is no longer a service center for Novartis, it is our corporate center. One of 3 in the world. I take tremendous pride in it. It is a story of India as well, that we can move up in the value chain. Because the talent in this country is second to none.”