Say Goodbye to the Gremlins - Pharma Gets (More) Digital

Two recent developments in the online space show signs that pharma is overcoming it's digital demons.

This week has seen two exciting forays by pharma into the digital sphere: Merck has collaborated with PatientsLikeMe in order to communicate with psoriasis sufferers, and Sanofi has launched a new YouTube channel that will enable them to directly interact with diabetics.

This is encouraging on a number of fronts. Firstly, the emergence of two digital collaborations in one week (hooray!) is suggestive of a widening trend; the last major collaboration was the BI and Healthrageous trial a whole month ago. So we can perhaps see tentative, green-shoot hope in this two-for-the-price-of-one increase, that pharma is finally fighting its digital gremlins.

So, what are these two new collaborations?

Let’s start with the oldest first –Merck and PatientsLikeMe. The basic idea here is that Merck’s clinical researchers and epidemiologists will be able to use PatientsLikeMe’s patient-reported data in their research; put simply, Merck will be able to gain a deep insight into the impact of the disease on sufferers. This will enable them to create better medication. It’s so astoundingly simple, I almost can’t believe it hasn’t happened before. I’d say ‘watch this space’, but the likelihood of this proving a waste of Merck’s time seems pretty close to zero. But hey, watching this space won’t hurt.

Next to enter the arena is Sanofi! Sanofi is in the heavyweight class folks; they’ve already done rounds with Facebook and Twitter, iPhone and iPad apps, in their campaign. Now they’re hitting the big leagues, by launching they’re very own YouTube channel. This is, again, an almost astoundingly simple format. Users upload their own videos with questions about diabetes, and Sanofi will upload response from experts. This is, without a doubt, good for patients, but also will no doubt be good for Sanofi – as their own Dennis Urbaniak says, this type of interaction with patients offers ‘so much valuable perspective for our entire team’.

There can be little doubt that interacting with patients can only help pharma to develop better drugs. And, while individual patient experiences will vary and thus be of limited value, when taken together, trends will invariably emerge, and Merck and Sanofi’s projects look set to reap huge rewards for them.

And let’s not ignore the other great benefit of these projects: with Facebook and Twitter, pharma companies can’t control what patients write on their walls, resulting in potential legal headaches. These two simple projects demonstrate the simplicity of getting it right with digital, without getting yourself into murky water.

This last week has been good news for the psoriasis and diabetes communities; let’s hope the coming months will be good news for us all. 

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