An Analysis: Big Pharma and Social Media Usage

Posted in Social Media

A study conducted in November 2011 by Cegedim Strategic Data, a market research and promotional audit firm analyzed the world’s top 100 pharmaceutical companies expenditure on traditional promotional (marketing spends) and then compared that spending with their presence on Facebook and Twitter.

Not surprisingly, Pfizer, Novartis and Merck (the world’s largest big pharma companies) finished in the top three for traditional promotional spending. However, their use of social media i.e. Twitter and Facebook varied widely. For example, Pfizer—the top promotional spender—was first in its number of Twitter followers and third in the number of likes on Facebook. On the other hand, second ranked Novartis was fifth in the number of Twitter followers and in seventeenth position for likes on Facebook. Finally, third ranked Merck was fifteenth in the number of Twitter followers (third for the number of tweets) and in the tenth position for the number of likes on Facebook (but has more pages than any of its Facebook competitors).

Other notable companies included:

  • Johnson &Johnson, eleventh in promotional spending and number two on the number of Facebook likes
  • Roche, number fifteen on the promotional spending list was ranked number two for the number of Twitter followers
  • Proctor and Gamble which ranked a distant 54th in promotional spending was number four on the Twitter follower list

What does this all mean? A whole lot of nothing because nobody can determine what effects the use of social media has on the bottom line for most pharmaceutical companies. Unlike other industries, where social media can be used to sell products, it cannot be used for direct promotional purposes in the life sciences industry. While most people will tell you this is because of the lack of guidance by FDA on the use of social media, the bottom line is that social media will never be allowed for direct-to-consumer advertising in the pharmaceutical industry. That said, pharma and biotech will have to find other uses for social media including clinical trial recruitment and retention, adverse event reporting, employee recruitment and retention and education and outreach.

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Tweeting (and Liking)


Social Media and Pharma Update: "No Need to Fear Adverse Event Reporting!"

Posted in Social Media

About two years, I posted an opinion piece on BioJobBlog which argued that pharma’s reluctance to engage in social media because of fears of being swamped with adverse events (AEs) reports was little more than a red herring.

In that piece I opined “what is really at stake, is the systemic changes that would be required to transform a historically, opaque and unresponsive industry into a transparent, accountable and responsive one that would be required if it embraces social media as an integral part of its business model.” Nevertheless, two years later, there is still no FDA guidance on the use of social media in the pharmaceutical industry and while some companies have warmed up to the concept, it has not been wholly embraced by most companies.

However, there is new data that may put the “fear of being swamped by AEs reporting” argument to rest. The Pharmalot Blog reported today that a new study conducted by Visible Technologies, a social media monitoring and software firm, showed that only 0.3 percent of more than 257,000 posts about 224 different products —33 antacid over-the-counter meds, 38 over-the-counter decongestants, 10 prescription statins and 143 prescription drugs used to treat high blood pressure—mentioned an AE. For a more detailed analysis of the study please click here.

According to the Pharmalot post the study was conducted over a recent 30-day period and posts were collected from millions of social media sources including “blogs; forums; message boards; message groups; social networks, notably Facebook and LinkedIn; Twitter; regular news sites; specialized health sites, such a WebMD; and video and photo sites, such as YouTube and Flickr.” The study’s focus on statins, blood pressure medications, over-the-counter decongestants and antacids was intentional because tens of millions of persons use these products and therefore, would be more likely to comment on them at social media sites. The bottom line: the use of social media by pharma companies will not overwhelm their existing AE reporting networks nor will it require that more persons be hired. In fact, as I argued in my previous post, using social media for AE report may actually help companies better managed approved and marketed drugs as part of their FDA-required post marketing drug surveillance programs. 

At this point, I am at a loss as to why pharma has not yet embraced social media and leveraged it to their advantage like other industries. I suspect that most companies will not act until FDA issues the social media guidance it has been promising for the past two years. Sadly, it is anyone’s guess when the agency will finally issue the guidance—it has already been delayed several times over the past two years!

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!!


A Death Knell For Social Media and Pharma?

Posted in Social Media

For the past few years, I along with many others have advocated the use of social media platforms (mainly Facebook, Twitter and YouTube) by life sciences companies. Despite a very positive beginning by companies like Novo Nordisk, Johnson and Johnson and others, the implementation of social media in the life sciences industry has been stymied by a lack of regulatory guidance by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and legal and commercialization concerns. While many believe that FDA guidance on the topic will be the panacea that they were waiting for, I personally don’t believe that it will make one bit of difference. That said, Steve Woodruff, the author of the IMPACTIVITI Blog, provides one of the best analyses that I have encountered that explains why social media and pharma don’t work well.

In a post entitled “Time to Give Up on Pharma and Social Media,” Steve cogently provides four compelling reasons why it will be difficult for pharma to ever embrace social media for commercial purposes. They include 1) the lack of regulatory guidance; 2) pharma does not communicate or interact in real time; 3) personnel turnover, short term thinking, lack of innovation and too much focus on quarterly profits; and 4) pharma’s addiction to centralized, one-way controlled communications. His bottom line:

Public, interactive, real-time social media platforms and commercial pharma communications simply don’t mesh well 

While I agree with Steve that social media may not be ideal for commercial purposes in the prescription life sciences industry, it may be perfectly well suited for pharmacovigilance and adverse event reporting, clinical trial recruitment and management, education, community outreach and employee recruitment and retention. These are not new ideas. But, because they cost money to implement and don’t contribute the most company’s revenue-driven bottom lines, life sciences companies have not actively explored or embraced them for these purposes. 

Whether big pharma and biotech companies like it or not, social media is here to stay. And, if these companies fail to act soon, they eventually will begin to lose their competitive edges and perhaps more importantly, market share. 

Until next time.. 

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!!!



New Thoughts on Pharmacovigilance, Adverse Event Reporting and Social Media

Posted in Social Media

About a year ago, I suggested that real time social media platforms like Twitter could be invaluable tools for adverse event (AE) reporting and related pharmacovigilance activities. However the mere mentioned of the dreaded AE causes many marketing, legal and regulatory affairs professionals at major pharmaceutical companies to break out into a cold sweat. 

As Mark Senak aptly pointed out in a recent post on his blog EyeonFDA,

“…the reporting of adverse events using social media has long been the bogeyman feared by the legal and regulatory departments of drug manufacturers in the US.”

Further, Mark rightly asserts:

“….the adverse event issue may have proven a red herring.  That is perhaps evidenced by the now large number of Twitter feeds that are active representing pharmaceutical manufacturing companies and even their products; the growing, though not as quickly and not with as much success, presence of YouTube channels; the large number of Facebook pages and even an uptick in the number of corporate sponsored blogs – now at five by my count.  If the adverse event reporting issue really were an issue, this presence would be shrinking, not growing.”

So, what is the “real reason” why drug manufacturers refuse to embrace social media like almost every other industry that I can think of? True, FDA has not yet issued its long awaited guidance on the use of social and digital media in the life science industry. But, the lack of guidance has not prevented pharma and biotech companies from innovating in the past. I suspect that one of the reasons why many companies refuse to adopt social media is the requisite transparency and interactivity that are typically associated with its use. And, perhaps more importantly is the perceived loss of control over product messaging that companies with approved drugs on the market have enjoyed for the past 50 years or more.

Whatever the reasons are, I still contend that social media platforms are ideal tools for AE reporting and pharmacovigilance activities. Hopefully, drug makers will come to realize this with or without FDA guidance on the topic.

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Tweeting!


Facebook Reaches 500 Million Users but Pharma Continues to be Slow to React

Posted in Social Media

An article in today’s New York Times business section loudly proclaimed that the number of people using Facebook had topped 500 million. Further, according to the article: “The company has grown at a meteoric pace, doubling in size from a year ago and each month, more than 30 billion photographs, links to Web sites and news articles are shared through the site, and its members spend roughly 700 billion minutes there.”  

While these statistics are mind boggling and represent an incredible business opportunity for any company, life sciences companies including most major pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies have largely shunned Facebook. In a post earlier this week on EyeonFDA, its author, Mark Senak rightly noted that:

 “When social media began to ebb from a media pathway for individuals to connect, to one where institutions and industry began to employ social media as a means of communicating with their constituencies Facebook has become an extremely important referral source - a driver of traffic – to Web pages.” Despite this, “the pharmaceutical industry, as a highly regulated industry, has lagged behind other sectors.”

The reasons for pharma’s reluctance to use social media to engage stakeholders are numerous. The most common ones offered include the lack of regulations guiding the use of social media and its possible effects on adverse event reporting for approved medicines. However, the lack of regulatory guidance and consequences for adverse event reporting didn’t prevent life sciences companies from building branded product websites, sponsoring patient communities or investing in social networks for physicians. Therefore, it is unlikely that the lack of regulatory guidance and fears of overwhelming adverse event reporting aren’t responsible for pharma’s reluctance to embrace social media. I suspect that the real reasons may have more to do with increasing transparency surrounding clinical testing, drug approvals and drug pricing and reimbursement. But, I digress….

Interestingly, despite the lack of regulatory guidance and concerns over adverse event reporting, some pharmaceutical companies have chosen to boldly go where no other life sciences companies have gone before on Facebook.  According to Mark, the following companies have created corporate or disease/cause-related fan pages on Facebook:

  1. Labs Are Vital sponsored by Abbott Laboratories
  2. AstraZeneca US Community Connections
  3. AstraZenecaCareers
  4. Bayer Karriere
  5. Bayer Sustainability
  6. Johnson & Johnson Network
  7. Nursing Notes by Johnson & Johnson
  8. Pfizer

While the number of person who are fans of these pages are minute (as compared with the total number of Facebook users) they likely represent highly committed and focused groups of user—any pharmaceutical marketer’s dream! Although Facebook still subscribes to the notion that “bigger is better, niche networking and social media sites are growing in popularity. This is because these sites may give marketers and advertisers a “bigger bang for their buck” as compared with larger, more unfocused and disparate user communities. In other words, penetration and uptake rates are likely to greater in focused niche populations as compared with the general population at large.

I have long contended that social media tools can be used for other than promotional purposes in the life sciences industry. To that end, the use of social media for clinical trial patient recruitment and retention is rapidly expanding and there are signs that pharmaceutical companies have finally recognized the power of social media for recruiting purposes e.g. AstraZenecaCareers .  

I have no doubt that the life science industry will eventually recognize the utility power of social media. It is no longer a question of “if” but rather ‘when” for social media and the life sciences industry?

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!!! 


Social Media and Pharma: Adverse Events Reporting Revisited

Posted in Career Advice

Last week I attended the Advanced Learning Institute’s conference on social media and pharma. During several question and answer periods, I raised the idea about using social medial tools to improve adverse effects (AE) reporting and post marketing drug surveillance activities. While there was a lot of head nodding suggesting that many of the conference attendees agreed with the points I was making, the conversation about social media and AE reporting was extremely muted. I suspect that most pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies don’t want to discuss the topic until the US Food and Drug Administration issues its mythical regulatory guidance on the use of social media for promotional and other purposes some time next year (?).

John Mack aka Pharmaguy is an ardent supporter (like me) of the use of social media for AE reporting. John was at the meeting and he mentioned that the next day he would be giving a talk on that topic to the World Drug Safety Congress in Washington, DC. Conveniently, he posted a copy of the talk to Slideshare and his blog, Pharma Marketing Blog before his talk.

John’s ideas and insights into the use of social media tools for AE reporting are spot on (and consistent with mine of course!). I highly recommend that those of you who are interested in learning more about this topic take a look at the presentation; it is very informative and quite well done.

It is anybody’s guess at this point whether or not pharma will embrace social media and use it for more than promotional and marketing purposes. However, there is a growing body of evidence which suggests that pharma is beginning to realize that they can no longer fight the pressure from its stakeholders to embrace social media.

Stay tuned for late-breaking social media and pharma news!

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Tweeting, Blogging, Videoing etc!


Pfizer Survey: Physicians Favor Using an Electronic Health Records System to Report Adverse Events

Posted in Social Media

I realize that I have been blogging about adverse events for the past couple of day but, let’s face it; the pharmaceutical industry lives or dies by the number of adverse events (AEs) that are reported for approved and marketed drugs. In any event, I came upon an interesting post in a Pharmaceutical Processing e-blast about the results of a survey  (conducted by Pfizer) which revealed that physicians are more likely to report side effects and adverse events through an electronic health records (EHR) system as compared with traditional paper methods. Nearly 60 percent of the 300 physicians who responded to the survey also agreed that AE reporting through an EHR would improve patient care.

While the results of the survey are not surprising (to me anyway), they suggest that the use of electronic methods for adverse events reporting may be a boon to drug manufacturers that are required (by FDA and other regulatory agencies) to collect information regarding the safety and tolerability of approved and marketed drugs.

In a previous post, I opined that social media would be an ideal platform for AE reporting. The results of the Pfizer survey tend to support this supposition. While EHR aren’t exactly social media, they are electronic and, it appears to me (based on Pfizer survey results), that healthcare providers and consumers may be more likely to report potential AEs using electronic as compared with conventional methods. Put simply, electronic reporting is much simpler, quicker and more facile than the current pen and paper model for AE reporting. And, in today’s rapidly paced and hectic world, time savings can translate into cost savings and improved efficiencies.

Paradoxically, the Pfizer survey results tend to contradict the notion that social media would be a bane to AE reporting for most drug makers. As I mentioned yesterday, many drug makers who have almost universally shunned social media, contend that the use of social media would overburden their AE reporting systems and possibly put them at enormous legal and regulatory risk. However, as I pointed out many times in the past, AEs are an expected reality in the pharmaceutical, biotechnology and medical devices industries. And, while drug makers are deathly afraid of AEs and reluctant to learn of them, the more information this is available about potential safety and tolerability issues, the better off most drug manufacturers may be. For example, if Merck was alerted earlier about the cardiovascular problems that Vioxx patients were experiencing, then possibly fewer patients may have been affected and harmed and perhaps, an improved version of Vioxx, an effective pain medication, might still be availability to patients who benefit from it.

To that end, providing physicians, healthcare workers and consumers with an accessible e-based AE reporting system built around social media would allow drug makers to quickly determine whether or not one of their drugs exhibits tolerability or safety issues that might warrant further investigation.  And, I believe that putting the appropriate social media AE reporting systems in place would allow drug and device manufacturers to monitor the performance of their products in real time and more accurately monitor, collect and analyze safety and tolerability data for certain drugs. This, in turn, would likely lead to the development of improved safer and more effective medications and devices, lower drug development and manufacturing costs and ultimately reduce drug makers’ exposure to legal and regulatory actions.

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!!!!!


Social Media and Pharmacovigilance

Posted in Social Media

Mark Senak, author of the EyeonFDA blog and social media enthusiast, posted a great piece about pharma’s reluctance to adopt social media and the changes in adverse event reporting– aka pharmacovigilance–requirements that may change this attitude. 

Hat tip to Mark!

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting

 SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Several Ways That Pharma Can Harness the Power of Social Media

Posted in Social Media

The debate, if you can call it that, over whether or not interactive social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter can be used in the life science industry is moving forward at glacial speed. I decided that it was time to propose some ideas rather than continue to admonish the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for a lack of guidance.

There are several reasons which may explain the inertia surrounding the adoption of social media by pharmaceutical, biotechnology and medical devices and diagnostics companies. First, and perhaps foremost, FDA has been consistently reluctant to craft any useful guidance on the use of Web 2.0 technologies for research, clinical or promotional purposes. The FDA’s Division of Drug Marketing, Advertising and Communications (DDMAC) is still trying to figure out how to regulate website content. Is it any wonder that FDA is reluctant to tackle the regulatory implications and issues associated with social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter? Second, a majority of social media advocates— who are leading the charge at many life sciences companies—are marketing and advertising executives who tend to look at social media strictly as a promotional tool. Finally, much of what takes place at life sciences companies is proprietary and confidential—information flow between the company and its employees and the public is fastidiously monitored and tightly regulated. Because of this, the life sciences industry’s “process” is intentionally opaque—which is contrary to the goals of social media which is to promote transparency (or the illusion of it).

There is no doubt that the life sciences industry is the most highly regulated industry on the planet. While this represents a formidable challenge for adoption of social media, it is by no means insurmountable—especially if social media is used for purposes other than branding, marketing and advertising. For example, the most straight forward application of social media at life sciences companies would be in the areas of corporate recruitment and employee retention. Many Fortune 500 companies outside of the life sciences industry have been using Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn for years for recruiting purposes. While not commonly acknowledged, life sciences companies have quietly begun to use Facebook, LinkedIn and MySpace to recruit prospective employees. Interestingly, the new kid on the block—Twitter—looks to potentially be a more powerful recruiting tool than any of its predecessors. Unfortunately, employee retention is no longer a priority at many companies. However, before the economic meltdown a number of companies, most notably Best Buy, were experimenting with social media to retain talented employees.

Another potential use of social media is for pharmacovigilance and adverse events reporting. Companies with approved products on the market are required by FDA (and other regulatory agencies that approved their products) to set up post marketing surveillance programs for adverse events reporting. By law, companies that receive adverse events reports from consumers, physicians or other entities must report them to the regulatory agencies that approved the product. Regulatory agencies maintain adverse events databases for all approved drugs and devices to monitor drug safety.  If designed and implemented correctly, interactive social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter (which operates in real-time) would make excellent pharmacovigilance and adverse reporting tools. Quite coincidentally, John Mack, who runs the Pharma Marketing Blog, reported a partnership between UCB and to create a pharmacovigilance reporting platform for UCB products.

Recruiting patients for participation in clinical trials (to assess efficacy and safety of prospective new drugs) has become extremely challenging over the past few years.Traditional patient recruitment strategies include print, television and radio ads and in some instances, websites. All of these recruitment methods are costly, labor intensive and limited in their effectiveness because they only reach small number of prospective clinical trial participants. I contend that Facebook with over 200 million users, LinkedIn with members in over 140 different countries and Twitter which is growing rapidly would be ideal for clinical trial recruitment and retention purposes. Others have also proposed this idea.

Finally, while the use of social media to promote approved drugs and devices may be difficult because of regulatory constraints, it can be utilized to keep the public informed about prospective new medicines and promote a company’s image or brand. There is no question that the public perception of the pharmaceutical industry has been severely tarnished over the last few years.  The industry’s continued lack of transparency and failure to adequately disclose potential safety risks about some approved products continues perpetuate a negative image. One way to restore public trust and confidence is to use social media to actively engage the public in conversation on wellness, addressing unmet medical needs and prospective new medicines and treatments that are being developed. Also, social media platforms could be employed to showcase community outreach programs and discuss educational initiatives to improve science education and training.

Social media is no longer a new phenomenon or technology. It is a legitimate form of communication which has become an integral part of the Web 2.0 experience. I suspect that the life sciences industry will have to make a decision about social media in the not so distant future—or possibly miss a potentially game-changing business opportunity. And, as Ken Kesey aptly said in Tom Wolfe’s ‘The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test’—“You’re either on the bus…or off the bus.”

 Until next time…

 Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!!!

 SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Despite a Few Warts, CDC and FDA Say Gardasil is Safe and Effective

Posted in Career Advice

A post at the Pharmalot blog said that the US FDA and the Centers for Disease Control issued a statement today indicating, that after reviewing side effect reports, Merck’s anti-HPV (cervical cancer) vaccine Gardasil is safe and effective, and its benefits continue to outweigh its risks.

According to the statement, the joint agency review determined that 94 percent of  all side effects reported after Gardasil vaccination were not serious. The most commonly reported adverse events fainting, pain at the injection site, headache, nausea and fever. Fainting is common after injections and vaccinations, especially in adolescents, the agencies noted.

Although there have been 20 reported deaths following vaccination, there was no common pattern or tend that would suggest they were caused by the vaccine itself. The statement went on to say that in cases where autopsy, death certificate and medical records were available, the cause of death was explained by factors other than the vaccine.

The statement was likely issued in response to highly publicized and widely circulated adverse events reports issued by the ultraconservative Judicial Watch which is morally opposed to HPV vaccination. It is extremely unfortunate that a small but vocal group of conservative Christians are willing to risk the health of their daughters because they are morally opposed to premarital sex and birth control. 

Until next time….

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!