Social Media for Pharma: A Match Made in Heaven or Hell?

Katherine Relle, a former student at The London School of Economics and Political Science, recently looked at what people are saying about pharmaceutical companies online to determine whether social media for pharma could possibly be a match made in heaven… or was that hell? 

social media, pharma, fda, food and drug administration, cder, center for drug evaluaton and research, cdrh, center for devices and radiological health, Abbott, Novartis, Actelion, Novo Nordisk, Boehringer Ingelheim, Pfizer, Eli Lilly, ProPharma, Genentech, Roche, GlaxoSmithKline, Sanofi-Aventis, Janssen, Takeda, Vertex, Merck, Sharp & Dohme, Watson, Nektar, Wyeth, Schering-Plough and Xanodyne Pharmaceuticals, digital marketing, Douglas C. Throckmorton, epharma summit, Bob Brooks, WEGO Health, Michael Weiss, Tiffany Peterson, Dee Sparacio

According to Media Post News, more than 50% of leading pharma companies expect social media, online video and other types of digital marketing to grow in use as critical tools for communicating disease state and product information.

FDA Lacks Priorities for Social Media for Pharma

Last December at the FDA-CMS Summit, Douglas C. Throckmorton, MD, Deputy Director for Regulatory Programs, Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER) said, “This is a transformational time in the healthcare system. Expectations, resources, and challenges all changing,” but he forgot to mention social media for pharma companies.

He pointed out that “today many more treatments are available, but patterns of manufacturing, use and access to information have shifted dramatically. Patients and clinicians want:

  • New products sooner that are safer and more effective
  • Deliver on the promise of basic science discoveries
  • Increased involvement in process
  • Accurate and understandable information sooner, especially in post-marketing”

Who could argue with that? And just a few of the key priorities for 2013 would include:

  • Focus on Patient Participation in Drug Development Process
  • Patient Participation in Medical Product Discussions
  • Patient-Focused Drug Development
  • More systematic and expansive approach to obtaining the patient perspective on disease severity or the unmet medical need in a therapeutic area to benefit the drug review process

With all of this focus on the patient, does regulation or corporate social media policy need to change to allow a real dialogue about medicines? Unlike the 2013 Strategic Priorities established for FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH), CDER’s strategic plan isn’t so… strategic. The plan doesn’t include any guidance for social media. Industry claims that it is working under antiquated laws and a lack of guidance from the agency. Those claims aren’t off-base, particularly when you consider the only social media guidance the FDA has issued so far has been in the form of warning letters about the use of the Facebook “like” button.

A core group of new technologies at companies such as Abbott, Novartis, Actelion, Novo Nordisk, Boehringer Ingelheim, Pfizer, Eli Lilly, ProPharma, Genentech, Roche, GlaxoSmithKline, Sanofi-Aventis, Janssen, Takeda, Vertex, Merck, Sharp & Dohme, Watson, Nektar, Wyeth, Schering-Plough and Xanodyne Pharmaceuticals is expected to grow rapidly for communication and education purposes. Industry expects social networking, podcasts and online video to grow in use as critical tools for communicating disease state and product information.

social media for pharma, fda, food and drug administration, cder, center for drug evaluaton and research, cdrh, center for devices and radiological health, Abbott, Novartis, Actelion, Novo Nordisk, Boehringer Ingelheim, Pfizer, Eli Lilly, ProPharma, Genentech, Roche, GlaxoSmithKline, Sanofi-Aventis, Janssen, Takeda, Vertex, Merck, Sharp & Dohme, Watson, Nektar, Wyeth, Schering-Plough and Xanodyne Pharmaceuticals, digital marketing, Douglas C. Throckmorton, epharma summit, Bob Brooks, WEGO Health, Michael Weiss, Tiffany Peterson, Dee SparacioI’m on a panel at ePharma Summit in NYC this week, Social Media for Pharma: A Match Made in Heaven or Hell? moderated by Bob Brooks, Executive Vice President, WEGO Health. Michael Weiss, Crohn’s Health Activist, Tiffany Peterson, Lupus Health Activist, Dee Sparacio, Ovarian Cancer Health Activist, and I will be discussing how advocate groups use social media to communicate and educate their group members.

Marketers are seeing the tools as a way to spread information rapidly and educate through podcasts, video and social networks.  They also have found that these mediums prove to hold very effective messaging for those who they communicate to.  For Pharma companies to be truly successful today they need to find a way to communicate successfully internally to their market place of physicians and those selling the drugs, but also externally to communicate the effectiveness of those buying the products. What can Pharma learn about interacting with their community online from patient advocacy groups?

About Casey Quinlan

Casey Quinlan gave herself the title “Mighty Mouth” on the theory that if you can’t hide it, flaunt it.
One of the things she flaunts regularly is her status as an e-patient and cancer warrior. As Casey likes to put it, “I’ve gone beyond “pink” – I’ve gone plaid!”
After getting a breast cancer diagnosis just days before Christmas in 2007, she wrote the Amazon best seller Cancer for Christmas: Making the Most of a Daunting Gift, which tells her story of managing medical treatment and exhorts everyone to become their own patient advocate.
She’s one of the Disruptive Women in Health Care, an online community of women dedicated to serving as a platform for provocative ideas, thoughts, and solutions in health and medicine.
She's is a former network news field producer who helped cover breaking news across the globe for over two decades, learning all about what makes a great story. She talked her way out of police custody in Saudi Arabia, and did standup comedy in New York for several years – she’s fearless.
Through her company Mighty Casey Media, she speaks to audiences on topics ranging from how healthcare can build healthier communities by using social media to how businesses can create content that drives brand loyalty and sales.

  • http://twitter.com/strategyplanone Strategy Plan One

    Pharma companies could use social media responsibly to provide good,useful information to consumers

    • http://www.myfordassociates.com/ Christopher Ford

      Agreed. Thanks for the comment. I believe that Pharma would love to see some guidance come out of FDA on the topic. I’d love to see what Casey discovers at the summit.

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  • http://twitter.com/pronestone Philip Ronestone

    In much the same way governments and traditional media have been forced to engage with social media, Pharma will have to do the same. Not to do so will take them into the negative in terms of public perceptions. Social Media is a major component of PR today, and as will all PR, it’s all about perceptions.

    • http://www.myfordassociates.com/ Christopher Ford

      Yes, it is, Philip, and thank you for the comment. It seems clear that the industry as a whole is already embracing social media, and would like to continue to develop its application. The lack of guidance from FDA does make it difficult to proceed.

  • http://twitter.com/stoooey Stuart Wimbles

    I sometimes feel that pharma’s have the view “people need medicine and will buy it, it’s a huge huge business that needs little or no advertizing, so why should we spend profits on a media network team”

    • http://www.myfordassociates.com/ Christopher Ford

      It’s more competitive a market than you’d think, Stuart. I agree that for some conditions and diseases there are no other alternatives, and in those cases we don’t see commercial advertising. Social media, though goes far beyond advertising – it provides mechanisms for customer feedback and complaint reporting.

  • http://twitter.com/USAFA_93 Christopher Sandys

    Is it possible for Pharma to learn from patient advocacy groups? The later are not working under the purview of the FDA, which is afraid to issue guidance lest that guidance erode its power.

    Is it possible that Pharma could push forward in their communication efforts, thereby forcing regulators’ hands?

    • http://www.myfordassociates.com/ Christopher Ford

      Good point, Christopher. That’s precisely what many organizations have, and are doing now. There are inherent risks involved, and any organization considering online engagement in social media must carefully assess those risks prior to engaging in public forums. Guidance can come in different forms – the worst being a public Warning Letter.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002680873449 Judith Kavanaugh

    FDA needs to catch up but it is like all laws regarding technology. It just moves faster then the speed of government.

    • http://www.myfordassociates.com/ Christopher Ford

      You’ve got that right, Judith! Thanks for commenting.