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Saturday, June 25, 2011

Novartis Institute for Biomedical Research Pharmaceutical Company Gains Fast, Comprehensive Access to Project Data

Time means everything to pharmaceutical companies—speeding the drug development cycle enables fast time-to-market and a more competitive business. Creating a more efficient, effective development cycle is a priority for Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research (NIBR). But the disconnected infrastructure used to manage research projects slowed decision making, such as which projects to prioritize, because of the time required to aggregate project data. NIBR teamed with Microsoft to build the Decision Support Environment—a solution that consolidates project data and associated documentation to a single system. The solution, which was built initially on Microsoft® Windows® SharePoint® Services 3.0 and soon will run on Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007, supports fast information access and better business insight, and the solution will help NIBR speed the drug discovery life cycle.


Novartis is a world leader in providing medicines that protect health, cure disease, and improve well-being. Formed in 1996 as the result of a merger between two Swiss companies (Ciba-Geigy and Sandoz), Novartis now operates through 360 independent affiliates in 140 countries. Novartis is committed to discovering and developing innovative products that will improve the lives of people around the world.

The Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research (NIBR) handles the research and development (R&D) for new medicine. The R&D process to develop drugs for humans mirrors the complexity of the human body. Drug compounds, clinical trials, and patient data are just some project elements that are tracked, meticulously. Expensive labor and equipment typically drive project costs to an excess of two million dollars (U.S.) over a five-year life cycle.

At NIBR, hundreds of ongoing projects exist—each of which generates numerous data files, documents, and reports. To work most effectively on projects, researchers, scientists, and project managers alike need to easily see project data, including milestones, timelines, and resources. This same group also needs quick access to project documentation to gain insight into project status and information, such as compounds related to projects.


We’ve selected SharePoint technology for several reasons: it is quick to implement, we can build a custom application to run on top, and it will provide opportunities for future growth.

Andrew Garrood, Project Manager, Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research


NIBR lacked a centralized management system for all of its projects. Instead, the company used a custom, Oracle-based application for project portfolio management. Individual projects were managed using a variety of different systems, including Lotus Notes TeamSpaces and Windows® operating system file shares.

The disconnected project infrastructure meant that researchers experienced had a tough time publishing, finding, and exchanging information as well as identifying reusable pieces of knowledge. Executives and decision makers also had difficulty consolidating project information, and that limited their ability to stay current on project status and to access the right information to make solid business decisions.

“In our business, the clock is always ticking. Once we apply for a patent on a drug compound, we have a finite amount of time to fully develop and test a drug treatment and then build a business around that drug treatment. So we’re always looking for ways to make the process more efficient and effective,” explains Andrew Garrood, Project Manager for NIBR. “With our existing systems, executives and researchers had to hunt through multiple systems to find project information. This process not only delayed decision making, but also made it difficult to get the ‘big-picture view’ that is required to make smart business decisions about project prioritization, resource allocation, and more.”

What’s more, because research teams for NIBR are located around the globe, the company wanted a solution that would enable researchers to access real-time information and then collaborate across time and distance.


NIBR needed a way to provide a single environment through which researchers could access and analyze project data. Such a solution would facilitate decision-making and information sharing, and so streamline the drug development cycle.

NIBR attempted in the past to build a more comprehensive system, using Oracle database and JAVA. But progress was impeded because the technology wasn’t flexible enough to support the company’s future growth. In 2006, however, NIBR found the answer.

The company teamed with Microsoft and began using Microsoft® Windows® SharePoint® Services 3.0 and Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 as the foundation for a new solution—the Decision Support Environment (DSE). The DSE enables researchers and NIBR management to share integrated information across research projects

Fast Facts

Number of developers

Estimated months to complete
6 months

Developer tools
Microsoft ASP.NET 2.0, Web Forms

Programming languages
Microsoft Visual C# development tool

Potential user base
1,500 to 2,000

from the beginning phases of the drug discovery process through Proof of Concept studies.

Garrood explains, “We’ve selected SharePoint technology for several reasons: it is quick to implement, we can build a custom application to run on top, and it will provide opportunities for future growth.”

Building the DSE

NIBR teamed with a Czech Republic–based software development company to complete development work on the DSE. Eleven developers have spent six months working on the new application.

To implement full document management functionality, the solution will use Windows SharePoint Services 3.0 and SharePoint Server 2007. By using a SharePoint Adaptor, researchers access project information directly through the DSE application (See Figure 1).


The productivity gain of this [the Microsoft] development infrastructure meets our needs to deliver complex applications on a relatively small budget.

Thomas Hein, Chief Information Officer Americas, Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research


To extend the core functionality of SharePoint, developers built a Web application component using Microsoft ASP.NET 2.0 and Microsoft SQL Server™ 2005 Enterprise Edition database server. ASP.NET 2.0 is a technology used to create dynamic Web applications and is part of the Microsoft .NET Framework, an integral component of Windows. Developers also used Microsoft Visual C#® 2005 development tool and Web forms to build forms-based Web pages and ASP.NET server controls to create and program common user interface elements.

“The Microsoft technologies enabled the project teams to deliver a comprehensive project release within an extremely short time frame. The productivity gain of this development infrastructure meets our needs to deliver complex applications on a relatively small budget,” says Thomas Hein, Chief Information Officer Americas for NIBR.

Using DSE

DSE uses collaborative features, such as team workspaces and data management files to help researchers manage their portfolio of projects. In addition, DSE contains competitor information and scientific papers.

Currently, NIBR has moved all of its projects into the new system (approximately 500 projects) and has 20 to 30 people at the executive level using the system. Also, approximately 100 researchers use the system to help manage research projects. In the future, the company expects to have as many as 2,000 people using the system.

“We needed a system that would expand and adapt to meet our growing needs—both for R&D and other business requirements. We’re confident the Microsoft technology will provide all the functionality we need for today and the future,” says Garrood.


Built on Microsoft products and technologies, the DSE is a “one-screen” solution that delivers scientific project background, data management fields, and more to help NIBR achieve the most effective project portfolio management. With DSE, researchers can more easily create, collect, and discover project information and collaborate with one another, regardless of location. At the same time, managers have the information they need to achieve faster, well-founded decision making. Overall, the DSE delivers the capabilities that NIBR needs to shorten research and development cycles, consequently giving the company a competitive edge.

“In our business, it’s imperative to give employees tools that enable them to quickly discover project data so they can make fast, informed decisions and keep the pipeline moving along. By using SharePoint Services 3.0 and SharePoint Server 2007 as the foundation for DSE, we can give our scientists this capability and more,” says Garrood.

Fast, Collaborative Access to Data

With the DSE, researchers have a central location from which to access all project information, find information, and connect with subject-matter experts regardless of their locations. Researchers also can share knowledge and simplify collaboration within and across organizational boundaries. Information also is easy to share because SharePoint technology integrates with familiar desktop applications and tools (such as Microsoft Office XP).

Improved access to information and collaboration means that NIBR expects employees to reduce the amount of time they spend accessing, aggregating, and reviewing portfolio and project data. Employees experience improved productivity because they need only to turn to one system for all their needs. NIBR has also implemented customized home pages, so researchers have immediate access to all of the projects they are working on and to the associated data.

Figure 1

Figure 1. Decision Support Environment logical architecture

“By using the SharePoint Server 2007 environment, our employees will have faster access to information. Instead of wasting valuable time searching for information, employees will spend their time using information,” says Garrood.

With DSE, researchers have faster access to data, and they can more easily share knowledge and collaborate on projects without being slowed-down by geographic boundaries.

“It’s easy for researchers to identify other people who are working on similar types of projects. An accomplishment that might otherwise be a difficult undertaking given our size and global locations,” says Garrood. “But with SharePoint technology and DSE, researchers can work together and share knowledge, regardless of their locations.”

Better Business Insight

The ability to make quick, informed decisions is crucial in the pharmaceutical industry, which depends on accuracy. To do so, executives need immediate access to real-time project information.

DSE creates real-time, interactive business portals, which NIBR uses to assemble critical information stored in a SQL Server 2005 database, alongside the documentation stored in the SharePoint Server 2007 environment. These portals make it easy to distribute information throughout the organization and facilitate better business decisions at all levels of the organization.

More specifically, the Executive Overview page enables managers to review all projects by phase, quickly move among projects, and access immediate project updates. This information helps empower them to make the best decisions on project priorities, resource allocations, and so on.

Streamlined R&D Processes

Achieving fast time-to-market is also crucial for any pharmaceutical company in this competitive industry. The faster a company gets a medicine through the development and approval process, the faster the medication can potentially help a patient, and the more successfully the company can compete. Now, NIBR is looking forward to streamlining the R&D life cycle because the company’s portfolio management solution is now robust and comprehensive.

“With the DSE and SharePoint technology, our researchers can find information faster and management can act on information faster. This will hopefully allow us to get to the next step in the development life cycle that much faster,” says Garrood. “Better access to information speeds up the entire cycle and gives us the competitive edge we need.”

Low-Cost Solution

A final consideration going into the project was keeping the costs low. By implementing the solution on SharePoint technology, NIBR achieved this goal.

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