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Pfizer Goes Digital with Sermo Partnership


Pharmaceutical Executive

Pharmaceutical ExecutivePharmaceutical Executive-10-24-2007
Volume 0
Issue 0

Pfizer named first pharmaceutical sponsor of social-networking community custom tailored for physicians and healthcare providers. Sermo CEO Daniel Palestrant explains how the deal will work.

Targeting new drug information and technologies to physicians just got easier—at least for Pfizer. The drug giant signed a sponsorship deal last week with online medical site Sermo to deliver targeted information to doctors through Sermo's social-networking component.

The site is open only to healthcare providers. To access Sermo, doctors register as they would on any social-networking site, but in this case, their identity and credentials are matched against databases of licensed physicians.

Sermo's business model is an interesting one. Unlike its social-networking peers (such as MySpace or Flickr), Sermo doesn't sell advertising and doesn't charge a user fee to doctors. "We make money by taking the information our community creates, packaging it, and selling it to people in financial services and the pharmaceutical industry," Sermo founder and CEO Daniel Palestrant told Pharm Exec on Monday.

Much like with a traditional news group or forum, doctors within the community can post and answer questions, engage in conversations about a topic, and submit a poll or vote on an existing one. All the information, particularly from the polls and surveys, is gathered as quantitative survey data.

"We didn't want to have any advertising on the site, and our model was that our first customers would be financial services and the government," said Sermo. However, about nine months ago, Palestrant says more and more doctors began asking Sermo if their voices were being heard by industry.

"In Pfizer, we found a very receptive partner that was interested in thinking out of the box and looking at novel approaches to interacting with physicians," Palestrant said. Pfizer will work with the physician community to explore and compose a series of guidelines and standards through which industry and physicians can interact in the community. Those guidelines will be placed in front of the community for feedback and ratification.

Sermo will not be using any banner ads or branding for Pfizer on the site, however, Sermo will enable a technology called hotspots, which allows outside information to be contextually presented into the community. This program will allow Pfizer, and eventually other pharma companies, to share information with physicians.

"Physicians recognize that sometimes the most valuable and relevant information around a given topic comes from industry," Palestrant said. "Industry has these expansive information assets, but no way of sharing it with the right physician at the right time."

Sermo is an online community of approximately 35,000 physicians, adding nearly 2,000 physicians a week. In addition, doctors ages 45 and older—a target audience Pfizer is no doubt excited to grab—outnumber younger doctors three to one.

With literally thousands of doctors visiting each day, the site has become a treasure trove of information for physicians logging in to help make diagnosis of illnesses, find out what drugs work best, and learn about challenges with medical devices. "Last week, US doctors logged in 4,000 hours on the site in one week," Palestrant said. "The uptake among the healthcare community has been extremely exciting."

Sermo is looking to partner with other pharma companies on different levels to further disseminate information. "Industry in general is always looking to go where the doctors are," Palestrant said. "The current model for interacting with physicians, while extremely effective, is also very expensive and inefficient. There seems to be a growing desire to find more targeted ways to interact with doctors."

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