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Specialized knowledge about disease and treatment is no longer the exclusive province of practicing physicians. Patient voices are increasing in volume, along with their roles in treatment decisions.
Patient voices are increasing in volume, along with patients' share of voice in treatment decisions. Specialized knowledge about disease and treatment is no longer the exclusive province of practicing physicians. Not every patient will be able to parse every academic article on clinical pharmacology or complex biological systems and their correlates, but then again, neither will every physician. The point is that a lot of patients in 2012 will have access to medical grade information, will conduct in-depth, independent research on their disease and potential treatment, will communicate with other patients and will be able to, with surprising frequency, tell their physicians something the latter didn't already know.
Getting the gist of an academic article or reading about a specific biological process on Wikipedia doesn't mean you're ready to go on rounds at Johns Hopkins or Mass General, of course. But the fact remains that individual patients, with their unique genomes, environmental circumstances, and symptoms, can be one of the most important resources in determining which treatments will work, which ones won't, and why.
For biopharmaceutical manufacturers, patient feedback can help to elucidate an unmet need. With rare exception there's almost never a perfect cure, and with the biggest sellers forever marching toward a genericized demise, it makes sense to look closely at where improvements can be made for the next generation of therapies. Treato, an Israeli tech firm, has identified 160,000 English language websites containing user-generated information about specific medications and symptoms, and has indexed over one billion blog posts covering 11,000 pharmaceutical brands. Currently in beta, the site (www.treato.com) lets visitors search Treato's big data patient compendium by brand, to find out what people are "saying" online. With the goal of identifying product weaknesses, or headspace for innovation, PharmExec used Treato to survey some of the best selling drugs across a handful of therapeutic areas. Here are the results:
» US sales 2011: $5.2 billion
» Therapeutic area: anti-psychotics
» Top concern: weight gain—referenced in 8.04 percent of 62,239 posts
» US sales 2011: $2 billion
» Therapeutic area: diabetes
» Top concern: hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)—referenced in 4.67 percent of 66,437 posts
» US sales 2011: $4.4 billion
» Therapeutic area: cholesterol/heart disease
» Top concern: muscle pain—referenced in 6.73 percent of 10,995 posts
Advair Diskus (GSK)
» US sales 2011: $4.6 billion
» Therapeutic area: asthma/COPD
» Top concern: thrush—referenced in 3.4 percent of 20,949 posts
Ben Comer is Pharma Exec's Senior Editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.