An Open Conversation - Pharmaceutical Executive


An Open Conversation

Pharmaceutical Executive

Third Party Tweets

Novo Nordisk found an ingenious way to engage its audience on the social network site Twitter without having to rely on internal staff to constantly update the messages (or tweets). The company used its existing spokesperson, race car driver Charlie Kimball to send branded and unbranded messages about its diabetes drug Levemir (insulin detemir) along with his usual chattering about racing.

"Not having any guidance to work from, we just wanted to make sure we did it in a way that was acceptable to the FDA," explains Ambre Morley, associate director of product communications at Novo Nordisk.

Kimball was trained to never blend tweet with the brand name and the disease state, and all posts include a link to the brief summary. "Even though it's a stand-alone brand name in the tweet, we have to be compliant because it's associated with a page about diabetes," Morley says. "When Charlie tweets about a branded drug, it's because he just took his treatment—not because we are directing him to mention the brands."

Morley says she would love to be able to design the user page to track statistics and gauge return on investment. But Kimball's Twitter is a one-way communication; followers can't respond to his posts or send any sort of information back to Novo Nordisk. Morley explains that this is not because of regulations, but more because Kimball is a celebrity and just can't respond back to all his fans.

The biggest hurdle, according to Morely, was getting approval from Novo Nordisk's legal division to launch the site. "I asked everybody, 'Do you see any flaws or gaps in the program?' We definitely tried to do it right. Is it perfect? No. But as time passes, there will be more guidance from FDA."

Building a Better Forum

Of all the recent moves into social media, biopharmaceutical firm UCB appears to have found the perfect balance between social interaction and pharmaceutical engagement by hiring social network architect PatientsLikeMe to reach out to epilepsy patients. Rather than creating a marketing tool that drives consumers to a drug through health information or branded marketing, UCB is going to use this Web 2.0 tool to gather data about epileptics, including whether or not they are currently on a UCB treatment.

"Drug companies get longitudinal outcomes data as well as achievements and intervention," says Benjamin Heywood, co-founder and CEO of PatientsLikeMe. "UCB wants to explore the comparative effectiveness of all the different therapeutics and interventions on the quality of life of epilepsy patients."

Think of it as a large-scale clinical study with thousands and thousands of patients. Similar to Facebook, patients in this online community will have health-centered profiles; users will answer a series of questions to measure where they are at with their illness. "In the case of epilepsy, the program will help patients understand their experiences with seizures as well as the different interventions they are trying," Heywood says.

At a time when pharma seems scared to have patients post adverse events on a public forum, this begs the question: How can UCB get around the regulatory restraints and respond to patients through social media? "We're taking it head-on," says Heywood, "By having a pharmacovigilance person in the community." In this way the company can gather much more data on adverse events and different dosages.

Heywood makes it clear that this is not a UCB community. Day-to-day control will be monitored and handled entirely by PatientsLikeMe, and that company promises a non-intrusive moderation model to encourage the community to comment freely. Transparency will also play a big part on the site. PatientsLikeMe fully discloses exactly what it does with its data, who its sponsors are, and how it turns a profit.


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