DigiPharm Europe 2010 Pt 7

Here’s my final post on the #DigiPharm narrative. Part 7! Again, I am reporting on selected sessions from Day 2, ones that I found of note or interest. You can read the twitterstream for more information on the presentations not covered here.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6

Still friends
First up after lunch was John Mack of Pharma Marketing News detailing to us Europeans the new rules for new media: a funny thing happened while waiting for FDA guidance. Waiting on the FDA is ‘Waiting for Goduidance‘; apt, considering the FDA hearing was October 2009. 70 presentations at the FDA hearings came from stakeholders, and interestingly the stats show that industry service providers made a large proportion of those presentations. Mack thinks that they are ‘pushing Pharma outside of the social media envelope‘. In addition, because of the first-come first-served basis, the share of voice for patients and HCPs was much reduced from previous hearings (1997).

From a survey taken by his readership, Mack explains that Pharma parses into different categories what they are accountable for and what they are not according to the way the funds have been given/spent (grants, paid content, display ads). Interestingly, around 45% of Pharma responders said that Pharma should be accountable for the content even on sites they do not have direct control of (funded by grants). There are also mixed views on accountability with regards to correcting third-party misinformation, with 12% of Pharma suggesting that all off-label information should be corrected by Pharma and 49% of Pharma opining that no corrections should be mandated on third-party sites.

Regarding space limitations, most responders to the survey did not know if space limitation is a problem in Pharma online communication, and therein lies the challenge: how do we make 140-character messages meaningful to the patients in addition to fair and balanced? Mack focused one of his infamous ‘Mack Attacks’ on the Race With Insulin Twitter page featuring promotional Tweets from Race driver Charlie Kimball on behalf of Novo Nordisk (although a picture of the two smiling together may indicate they are still buddies – not sure where Kimball’s hands are though!). A big thing for Pharma are Adwords and search results (around 40% of US Pharma’s online spending budget says Mack), and because Google was losing the Pharma revenue, they piloted and presented a solution for prescription drugs that included a fixed warning of 60 characters, a link to more information and a fixed landing page in the headline.

So where is the draft guidance? Mack predicted that we will get guidance by the end of October, but the FDA will produce and roll out draft mini-guidance documents over time, the first of which, he predicts, will be concerning space limitations. However, he says, that hasn’t stopped Pharma diving into social media, although there have been problems around mishandling (citing sanofi-aventis’ VOICES page being assaulted by a patient who suffered permanent hair loss from the chemotherapy Taxotere, resulting in the comments being turned off). He concludes by suggesting that the greatest mistake for an online pharma initiative is to not have a crisis plan.

Following the presentation, Mack sat down for a panel debate with Chandler Chicco’s Sam Walmsey, taking questions from the floor. Walmsey asks why he is so critical of the industry, and he admits that he “…doesn’t make a living by telling people what they are doing well, he leaves that up to awards ceremonies (it’s a dirty job but someone has to do it?). But do ‘Mack Attacks’ help Pharma? Responses from the floor suggest that they do, but it does involve a headache of lawyers (I believe that is the collective noun), Gary Monk recalls individuals who received a Mack Attack and this significantly increased their Twitter following.

The right measurement
A quick note about the presentation from Preston Hennington of PR Newswire on building your brand using multimedia. I didn’t really take much away from this, but when he was talking about using free online tools to track sentiment, buzz and influencers (such as Social Mention, Twitority and Twitalyser), it rang alarm bells. I feel strongly that these free social media tools should be used with caution, especially when interpreting the results. You are better off spending some money and getting it right!

I expect in 2040 we will all have cell towers grafted on at birth
A brief mention here of the Mobile presentation from Hedwig Scheck of GSK. Frankly I found there is nothing new here (considering my avid interest in mobile), but of note some responses from the floor from questions: most of the room are thinking about launching an iPhone app, but only a handful actually have done so. Also of note is that sanofi-aventis has unveiled an iPad and iPhone app glucometer with add-on hardware and GSK have developed an iPhone app for the German market to help allergy patients. She predicts that by 2011, more than half of brands are expected to use between 5 and 25% of their marketing budget for mobile marketing. My thoughts are that Pharma should be careful of focussing too hard on iPhone specifically to the detriment of Android – consider that Gartner predict by the end of the year it will become the number 2 mobile operating system (after Symbian and above BlackBerry and Apple). There are, of course costs associated with Android, considering the breadth of handsets and the fragmentation of the operating system. We should also be mindful of the new operating systems due: Windows Mobile 7, MeeGo (Nokia’s new smartphone OS) and Bada (Samsung), plus the launch of a number of app stores.

Microchips and pills
Next up is connecting patients and physicians to treatment outcomes in the digital era presented by Todd Stephens of Merck Serono. He starts by asking: ‘Which of these three can you do well?

  • Product leadership
  • Operational excellence
  • Or customer intimacy?’

It is difficult to move focus from one to the other, or indeed to get a balance. He says the problem currently is that Pharma needs to choose the technology they invest in three to four years in advance. There is a displacement in timelines between technology development, application of that technology, legal and regulations and roll out. Indeed, the choice of technology is relatively redundant to payors, as they are focused on outcomes, not technology: ‘Drugs are not reimbursed if they are not proven to improve treatment outcomes‘ A question: will we be looking for reimbursement of medical apps? Interestingly, Stephens implies that Merck Serono are working on a mobile compliance tool in endocrinology.

So will adherence/compliance be the next important topic in digital? I say this is one part of the patient story. With the rise of mobile help or hinder this? Will Mobile compliance apps be the way forward or, as Stephens alluded to, will ‘intelligent medicines’ as being trialled by the NHS be the way forward? More questions to debate.

The end? Not by a long run
Here endeth the narrative from DigiPharm Europe 2010, but looking back at the presentations, data, case studies, demonstrations and discussions, I can’t help but think that these are challenging and exciting times in the Pharma industry. I for one am encouraged by the growing effective use of digital technology and channels, and at the same time worried about the potential direction this could take. I think two things have become very clear from this conference:

  • There should be some discussion and agreement on regulatory issues with regards to digital and to social media in particular, and this discussion should focus on the global nature of the internet and therefore consider the cross-boundary nature of how the drug industry should be regulated.
  • To survive in this landscape, Pharma must make inroads into developing a digital strategy – and by that I mean integrate your digital tactics into your overall strategic plan, and at the same time, generate and maintain internal buy-in by developing a corporate digital strategy that integrates digital into the fabric of your organization’s culture and operations.

Thanks for reading!

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About me

Hi, my name is Paul Jacobs and I write the Medigital blog, as well as being the Director, Digital Strategy at Sonic Boom, a digital and social agency. I hope you enjoy reading my thoughts about the digital domain in pharma and medical communications/education.
Please note that opinions expressed in this blog are my very own and do not necessarily reflect those my employer, family or pets. Twitter: @PJ_Medigital
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