A career in data science – or indeed the pharma industry – had not been on Noopur’s radar when she was studying for her MBA: “Meeting the Novartis graduate recruiters at a university fair, and learning about the Company’s values and culture really sparked my curiosity. I was inspired by the commitment to help others, so, straight out of university, I joined Novartis.”
“Seeing huge volumes of data coming through each day, I knew there were insights and opportunities within them that could open new horizons – if I only knew how to use them. I wanted to unlock their potential and, to do that, I needed to have the right tools. Data science turned out to be the key.” Noopur
Fast forward three years, and Noopur now manages external operations in Global Clinical Supplies, collaborating with vendors to ensure that clinical trial products are packaged correctly. It might sound simple, but the drug products involved are highly sensitive to light and temperature. They require meticulous packaging, storing and transporting and even a minor deviation could have huge implications for the clinical trial being supplied.
Her role is primarily vendor management, but with the team supplying more than 3,600 Novartis clinical trials the volumes of data generated are huge – and they could hold the key to future advances that would bring transformational medicines to more patients, more quickly. Recognizing this opportunity was the start of Noopur’s data science journey.
Taking the leap
Naturally curious as a person, Noopur would question her data scientist friends on their roles, recognizing that their skills were enabling them to approach problems very differently. Then she heard about the Women in Data Science Accelerator Program – a six-week internal course that offers women practical skills to grow their careers in the data science space, no matter their background or expertise – here Noopur learned the basics of data science and expanded her data science horizons.
Putting the skills to the test: thinking like a Data Scientist
Noopur lost no time in putting her new-found knowledge to use, and the past 12 months have proven just how valuable a data science mindset can be.
“During the COVID-19 pandemic, in order to avoid any patient impact due to the restrictions in place globally, our function set up a task force to deal with the many orders that might be affected. I had an idea that we could use this scenario as a data science problem, by gathering and interrogating our data to learn as much as possible about the work needed to meet demand.
The data insights we’ve generated have given us a deeper understanding of the priority areas, ensuring that we will be equipped to deal with any situations – including pandemics – that might occur in future.”
It’s not about what you know, it’s about how you think
If there’s one thing Noopur is clear about, it’s that you don’t have to have a ‘typical’ data science, tech or pharma background to break into this space. Noopur had limited programming experience from her studies, and like many, she was concerned she didn’t have the ‘right’ expertise for this complex and cutting-edge field. Quickly, however, she realized that it’s not really a question of having the right experience, but rather the right mindset to be a good candidate for data science. For Novartis, extracting the right insights from the vast wealth of data we hold about every aspect of our operations is key to understanding how we can have the greatest impact on patients’ lives. And for that, we need data science, data scientists and people with a data-driven mindset with the right skills and curiosity to reimagine every aspect of the way we work.
The power of a data-driven mindset
At Novartis, with around 2 million patient-years of data in our system, we have one of the largest and most diverse datasets in the pharmaceutical industry - one which has been largely underused for decades. “This is the crucial asset which will be instrumental going forward as we apply artificial intelligence tools to sift through the data and find hitherto unknown correlations between drugs and diseases” says Pascal Bouquet, Technology Lead at data42.
However, data by itself does not hold any meaningful value if not easily accessible or connected, and it is only as good as the questions we ask and the business challenges we are looking to solve. What we need the most, in order to develop innovative medicines and breakthrough healthcare solutions, is curious minds with a constant desire to learn and a passion to discover new and better ways of doing things.
That’s why we are continuing to work hard and to open the world of data science to more and more associates across Novartis, equip them with the skills that will allow them to ask the right questions and explore the right opportunities - just like Noopur.