Friday, October 8, 2010

Pharma and the Travails of Social Media

What a world. One of the most regulated industries on earth – pharma – is trying to learn how to communicate with its “new” customers – patients – on the anything-goes media, the Web. According to a PharmExec blog, industry is hiring all kinds of Web gurus to teach them about the “minefields” of YouTube and Facebook.

One – Novartis – already has gotten burned. The FDA said the company permitted conversation to occur about its leukemia drug, Tasigna, on Facebook and sent Novartis a warning letter about it. Jonathan Richman, founder of Dose of Digital, said in response to the PharmExec blog that Novartis was encouraging people to comment about content that it knew wasn’t compliant and to share it. According to Dose of Digital, industry has 50 sponsored pages on Facebook.

It begs the question: In a business as heavily regulated as this one, in which the DOJ publicly announced its attentions to investigate it for alleged off-label violations – and then did so – would industry be more cautious about inviting more trouble?

Maybe because it has no choice. Pharma’s customers are interacting in this world in the ways the FDA did not even think possible.  Is this foray into the cyber communications minefield an unintended consequence of the heavily regulated world of medical communications? We think so.

Next question: How does this impact public safety? More to follow. 

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