Up until now most pharmaceutical companies wouldn't dare touch social media. Too many questions, too many regulations, and too much at stake. Maybe, just maybe, that trend is about to change.
The change is evident in several new pharma corporation blogs. The newest is the obtusely named CNTO411 blog. It is a disguised name for Centocor, a Johnson & Johnson owned drug conglomerate that manufactures immune support drugs such as Ustekinumab. Not exactly a household word, but if you had psoriasis you'd know what it is. Another one comes from GlaxoSmithKline's Alli, which is a weight loss drug. Pfizer also has a blog on fibromyalgia
Centocor's blog actually went up around September of 2008, but there were no return posts, and apparently it was taken down early this year. It went back up blog went up March 17, with little fanfare. But it promises a new window into how doctors and patients interact, and how patients interact with drug companies. Remember Merck and the Vioxx lawsuits? Imagine if Vioxx had a Twitter network and the CEO of Merck could have addressed the users of Vioxx in an interactive forum. At that time, Merck's website did not list even an email address to field queries about the drug.
Part of the trepidation from pharma companies comes from the FDA. Web 2.0 was assumed to be off-limits but a conversation quoted by Nielsen this week may signal a new perception of social media. Nielsen quoted Dr, Mark Senek, an active medical blogger, as saying the FDA does not prohibit pharmaceutical companies from engaging in social media. This could be a positive signal but it is far from the regulations that wold need to be drafted and approved.
A recent Newsweek article also showed how social media be used for patient recruitment. Inspire.com, for example, has more than 100,000 users who are sharing more than stories of illness and recovery. Members opt-in for information from 62 nonprofits who partner with the site, and they receive targeted information from pharmaceutical companies who use the site as a recruiting tool for drug studies. On the plus side, those grappling with serious or chronic diseases get to hear about clinical studies and new treatments that they might not otherwise know about. Pharmaceutical companies get easy online access to highly engaged populations with specific medical conditions.
The amount of actual candor from doctors and drug company execs remains to be seen. Centocor has its inflammation options covered. "Opinions that are outside mainstream science or could be misleading or confusing will not be posted," it says. "Please keep in mind that Centocor works within a highly regulated industry. Therefore, comments that pertain to ongoing legal matters or regulatory issues are unlikely to be posted."