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by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

IRA: Are Patients Winning at the Cost of the US Pharma Sectoral Growth?

The market reaction to the US Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 is mostly mixed. It is expected to change the pharma industry dynamics in terms of the competitive positioning and product pricing of those companies projected to be negatively impacted by the IRA. The answer to whether the IRA will be able to curb rising healthcare costs in the USA lies in the legislation’s on-the-ground application.

IRA to decrease prescription drug prices via a four-pronged strategy

Prices of prescription drugs in the USA are 2.78 times higher than in 33 other countries analyzed in a 2024 report published by RAND, a public policy think tank.

In pursuit of reducing healthcare costs in the USA, the Biden government passed the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) in August 2022. One of the major goals of the act includes the reduction of prices of prescription drugs.

This is expected to be achieved through a four-pronged strategy, the mainstay of which involves the US federal government negotiating the prices of some high-priced prescription drugs covered under Medicare.

The second prong includes pharmaceutical firms paying a rebate to Medicare if they raise the price of prescription medicines covered under Medicare by a rate that is higher than the inflation rate.

The monthly cost of insulin for Medicare patients is capped at US$35, as the third prong.

The fourth prong aims to reduce prescription drug prices by capping the out-of-pocket costs of Medicare Part D patients at US$4,000 in 2024 and US$2,000 in 2025.

IRA Are Patients Winning at the Cost of the US Pharma Sectoral Growth by EOS Intelligence

IRA Are Patients Winning at the Cost of the US Pharma Sectoral Growth by EOS Intelligence

Pharma companies to suffer more due to IRA compared to projected government savings

Under the IRA, large pharmaceutical companies, defined as those with over US$1 billion in net profits, are required to pay a minimum of 15% annual taxes, a financial burden on these companies. Analysts predict that the annual revenue from corporate taxes could be to the tune of US$222 billion. Furthermore, the IRA is expected to save over US$287 billion for ten years from the roll-out, as per the estimates of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

Apart from the increased financial burden on some companies, experts foresee potential adverse impact on several pharmaceutical companies based in the USA to a considerable extent.

The pharma companies witnessing the least to no impact are the ones with their primary operations based outside the USA, biologics or large molecule drug producers, and the ones that do not receive government funding for R&D. This is because of the differing timelines under IRA for negotiating the prices of biologics and small molecules. Biologics’ timeline is 11 years after FDA approval, while small molecule drugs are eligible after 7 years. Therefore, Medicare negotiations will begin four years earlier for a small molecule drug that has received approval at the same time as a large molecule biologic drug.

Apart from these adverse effects, such as differential treatment of small molecule drugs compared to biologics under Medicare price negotiation timelines, there are some other negative impacts on the overall US pharma industry, such as diminishing competition among generic drug producers, decreased discovery of new treatments, and new uses of existing drugs.

IRA to affect the revenues of top pharma companies surely but variably

There are differing viewpoints regarding the impact of IRA on pharmaceutical companies’ revenue. One group of experts suggests that Medicare prescription drug negotiations under the IRA will depend on the expiration of the drug’s patent. Other experts expressed their opinion that irrespective of when a drug loses exclusivity, a significant threat to drug revenues comes from the competition entering the market and not from lower negotiated drug prices.

The first group of experts states that lower negotiated prices in 2026 are expected to have a lower impact on medicines projected to witness revenue loss owing to patent expiry around the same time. One such example of a drug losing its exclusivity in the USA in 2025 is Stelara by Janssen Biotech approved for treating psoriasis.

In contrast, pharma companies producing medicines that are expected to witness competition from their generic counterparts after 2026 are projected to lose revenue owing to lower negotiated prices even before the drugs lose exclusivity. However, some companies’ revenue will be affected more than others.

Medicare price negotiations to hit revenues of some drugmakers drastically

The pharma industry’s revenue is expected to decrease by 2% due to the new measures brought about by the IRA, as per a 2022 report by Morningstar, a US financial services firm. Among the companies that will be highly affected are Novo Nordisk, Gilead, Bristol Myers Squibb, AbbVie, and AstraZeneca. In contrast, others, such as Pfizer, Merck, Roche, and Novartis, will not be as much impacted by Medicare price negotiations.

Some 15% of global branded drug sales come from Medicare in the USA, as per Morningstar estimates. Therefore, the impact of the IRA on pharmaceutical companies depends on their reliance on Medicare sales, price adjustments, high-cost specialized drugs, and extended patent protection.

Medicare prescription drug negotiations are projected to impact pharma companies the most among all IRA measures, although this impact might not be uniform across the players. On the other hand, Medicare negotiations are projected to save the government approximately US$100 billion through 2031. The pharma companies facing the highest revenue losses include Novo Nordisk, Gilead, and AstraZeneca.

When the Medicare price negotiation measures start to roll out in 2026, two drugs of Novo Nordisk, namely, Ozempic and Rybelsus, that are approved to treat type 2 diabetes, are expected to witness an 8% decline in their projected revenue through 2031, as per Morningstar. Gilead’s Biktarvy, which treats HIV-1 infections, is expected to be subject to price negotiation in 2027 and thereby face a projected revenue loss of 7% through 2031. On similar lines, Calquence (to treat mantle cell lymphoma) and Tagrisso (to treat non-small cell lung cancer) drugs of AstraZeneca are expected to lose 6% revenues through 2031 owing to Medicare price negotiations.

In contrast, considering the existing portfolios, Pfizer, Merck, Bristol Myers, and BioMarin are expected to witness no revenue loss due to Medicare negotiations.

Medicare inflation caps to impact major pharma companies negatively

Another important IRA measure is Medicare inflation caps. This measure involves drug producers paying penalties for increasing drug prices beyond the inflation rate. It is expected to result in US$62 billion in government savings through 2031.

Around March 2023, the US federal government, along with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), released a list of 27 drugs whose prices were increased by their manufacturers at a higher rate than the inflation rate. This list included AbbVie’s Humira (to treat Crohn’s Disease) and Astellas Pharma’s and Seagen’s Padcev (to treat urothelial cancer). Gilead Sciences, Johnson & Johnson, and Pfizer are among other impacted companies by Medicare inflation caps. Pfizer had the most drugs on the list, with a total of five.

Bristol Myers Squibb is one of the pharma companies that is expected to be highly impacted by Medicare inflation caps. The company’s drugs, such as Eliquis (to treat or prevent blood clots), Opdivo (to treat melanoma), Orencia (to treat rheumatoid arthritis), and Yervoy (to treat various cancer types) are among the medicines that are expected to face revenue loss owing to inflation caps. Other drugs on the list include Novo Nordisk’s drugs such as Novolog and Levemir (both for type 1 diabetes) and Victoza (for type 2 diabetes), Johnson & Johnson’s drugs such as Imbruvica (to treat certain cancers) and Xarelto (to treat or prevent blood clots), along with Novartis’s Sandostatin (for severe diarrhea and flushing related to metastatic carcinoid tumors).

In contrast, Merck is not expected to face any revenue loss due to inflation caps, while GSK, Regeneron, Roche, and Sanofi are projected to witness minimal revenue loss as these companies have not raised the prices of their drugs beyond the inflation rate.

IRA to potentially reduce competition from generics

According to the IRA, following the price negotiations of some of the branded drugs, manufacturers of the generic versions of such drugs will have less scope to charge a reduced price for those drugs. This would disincentivize the generic drug producers to manufacture generic versions of the already low-priced branded drugs.

EOS Perspective

The IRA represents a substantial change in the US legislation that strives to make healthcare more affordable to Americans through increased access to more reasonably priced prescription medicines.

However, IRA can be expected to affect small-molecule drugmakers more negatively than biologics. Moreover, some pharmaceutical companies are projected to feel the pinch more than others in terms of revenue losses.

Companies such as Merck, Bristol Myers Squibb, and the pharmaceutical association PhRMA have filed lawsuits against some provisions of the IRA, stating that they are unconstitutional. Bristol Myers Squibb and J&J are planning to appeal after the US court dismissed the IRA lawsuits. These pharmaceutical companies are trying to find ways to circumvent the negative impact of the legislation.

IRA is also expected to negatively impact R&D and medical innovation. This is evident from the fact that biopharma companies have reduced their R&D efforts in the neuroscience space, especially since a lot of development work in this space involves small-molecule drugs. Moreover, as IRA exempts only one orphan drug from price negotiation, investments in R&D for orphan drugs are likely to get deprioritized. Many pharmaceutical companies are reconsidering their R&D planning and investment strategies to counter the effect of IRA.

IRA is clearly not a win-win strategy for all stakeholders. Pharmaceutical companies are mostly at the losing end, while patients could be winners. Considering all the positives and negatives of IRA, only time will tell the actual impact of the legislation on the overall pharmaceutical industry.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

An Era of Innovation: Novel Drugs Redefining Multiple Sclerosis Treatment Paradigm

Since the approval of the first drug, interferon beta 1b (IFNβ-1b), in 1993, the treatment landscape of multiple sclerosis (MS) has significantly changed. Currently, there exist more than 20 disease-modifying therapies (DMTs) to treat MS, encompassing orals, injectables, and infusions. These drugs, however, can cause adverse side effects such as toxicity, pregnancy-related complications, and gastrointestinal symptoms, among others. Moreover, about 5-10% of the patient population still develops disability. Despite the wide range of therapeutic options available, patients experience relapses and worsening disease symptoms, which significantly reduce their quality of life.

The ongoing challenges have driven pharmaceutical companies to develop and launch drugs that offer greater efficacy and safety, enhancing patients’ health outcomes in the longer term. In particular, significant efforts are geared towards treating the progressive forms of MS, such as Primary Progressive MS (PPMS) and Secondary Progressive MS (SPMS), for which therapies are currently limited.

Several emerging therapies are in various stages of development, targeting distinct mechanisms of the underlying disease etiology. Among all the emerging therapeutic approaches, Bruton Tyrosine Kinase Inhibitors (BTKIs) emerge as the most promising, currently in later stages of clinical trials, poised for approval. The potential advantage of BTKI agents is that they can treat both relapsing and progressive forms of MS.

Remyelination is another equally promising therapeutic approach, as it has the potential to promote myelination, restore axonal and neuronal health, and prevent disability; however, extensive clinical trials are essential to develop these drugs and fully integrate them into clinical practice.

On the other hand, monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) are becoming the most common therapeutic option due to their higher selectivity for B-cells (a type of immune cell), a fact that plays a crucial role in MS disease pathogenesis. The higher selectivity of mAbs allows to efficiently target these cells and reduce inflammation.

An Era of Innovation Novel Drugs Redefining Multiple Sclerosis Treatment Paradigm by EOS Intelligence

An Era of Innovation Novel Drugs Redefining Multiple Sclerosis Treatment Paradigm by EOS Intelligence

Pharma companies place high hopes on BTKI

Following the success of B-cell depleting therapies in treating MS, there has been a notable surge in interest in utilizing a novel class of medications called BTKI. BTK is an enzyme crucial for the functioning of B-lymphocytes, which elucidates the autoimmune response in MS patients. Unlike B-cell depleting therapies, which directly reduce the number of B-cells, BTKIs alter B-cell function, preventing relapse or slowing disease progression in MS patients.

These BTKIs can be taken orally, offering a convenient and easy way of administration. Another potential advantage is that BTKIs can cross the complex blood-brain barrier, which other MS drugs fail to do. Due to this potent efficacy, researchers believe that BTK inhibition can even act as a cure for MS.

Over the past few years, top pharma companies such as Roche, Sanofi, InnoCare, and Novartis have betted big on BTKI to treat MS patients. There are currently four BTKI agents that are being investigated for MS treatment – Sanofi’s Tolebrutinib, Roche’s Fenebrutinib, Novartis’ Remibrutinib, and InnoCare’s Orelabrutinib. Among these, Sanofi is ahead in the race, looking to submit its BTKI drug Tolebrutinib to treat Relapsing-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis (RRMS) for FDA approval in 2024. The company is also currently evaluating Tolebrutinib in a phase 3 trial for treating PPMS, which is expected to be completed in August 2024. If successful, Sanofi would become the first pharmaceutical company to offer BTKIs for both RRMS and PPMS. At present, Roche’s Ocrevus (Ocrelizumab) is the only DMT approved for treating PPMS. Sanofi’s approval of BTKIs would set the stage for direct competition between Roche and Sanofi in the treatment of PPMS. However, Roche’s Ocrevus patent expires in 2029, hence the company remains focused on its BTKI drug Fenebrutinib.

Similar to Sanofi, Roche is testing Fenebrutinib for treating both RRMS and PPMS patients. Roche is slated to complete its phase 3 studies investigating the drug to treat RRMS in November 2025 and PPMS in December 2026.

Novartis and InnoCare are slightly trailing in the competition. Novartis is currently evaluating its BTKI drug, Remibrutinib, in phase 3 clinical trials to treat people with RRMS, expected to be completed in 2029. On the other hand, InnoCare is currently evaluating Orelabrutinib in phase 2 trials for RRMS treatment. Both Remibrutinib and Orelabrutinib cannot be used to treat PPMS, which is a major limitation.

The development of BTKI fosters hope for the next era of MS treatment, as the therapy treats both relapsing and progressive MS. However, the safety and efficacy of each drug still needs to be understood.

Results from BTKI clinical trials indicate that these drugs differ in the strength of BTKI inhibition, BTK enzyme binding mechanism, and central nervous system (CNS) penetration. For instance, Sanofi’s Tolebrutinib showed greater CNS penetrance than the other BTKI agents, making the drug a potential candidate for treating PPMS. On the other hand, Roche’s Fenebrutinib is the only reversible BTK inhibitor that does not cause drug resistance, thus offering a better and safer treatment compared to the rest of the BTKI agents.

It is too early to predict the timeline and extent to which these drugs will be incorporated into the MS treatment paradigm. Until then, pharmaceutical companies in this space will persist in vying to accelerate the launch of their therapies in the fiercely competitive MS market.

Therapies targeting remyelination nearing clinical trials

In MS, myelin, a fatty tissue that surrounds the nerve cells, gets damaged, impairing the nerve’s ability to send electrical signals. At present, no therapies can promote myelin repair in MS patients. The current treatments focus primarily on reducing immune system activity and stopping immune cells from entering the CNS to reduce relapse rates and improve symptoms. The emergence of remyelination therapies holds extensive promise by protecting and restoring neuronal function, and preventing clinical disability in MS patients.

Remyelination works by either removing myelin debris or by creating a type of cells called oligodendrocytes to repair and replace the damaged myelin sheaths.

Over the last few years, pharmaceutical companies have shown heightened interest in evaluating and developing drugs that could promote remyelination. Some of these drugs are in later stages of development, nearing clinical trials.

For instance, in March 2024, Convelo Therapeutics, a US-based biotechnology company, announced that its two oral therapies showed promising evidence in myelin repair in animal models. Similarly, in the same month, the FDA granted a breakthrough device designation to a neurostimulator, for treating RRMS. The device is developed by SetPoint Medical, a US-based healthcare company, to slow myelin damage in RRMS patients. Both these companies have been working to begin clinical trials soon to test their remyelinating agents.

Numerous other companies across the world are also conducting extensive research on remyelination therapies for MS. Additionally, studies are underway to explore the potential of existing drugs, such as Metformin, Ibudilast, and Clemastine, among others, in promoting myelin repair. Encouraging results from preclinical trials and ongoing research studies foster growing optimism that this approach will become viable in treating MS patients in the future.

However, work on remyelination to treat MS patients has just begun, and there is still a long way to go. Defining the optimal clinical criteria for evaluating myelin repair appears largely undefined. There is also an urgent need to develop tools to measure the remyelination achieved and assess the drug’s effectiveness. That said, recent discoveries shedding light on remyelination processes and the functions of oligodendrocyte cells inspire hope that these issues will be effectively addressed in the coming years. Companies are also developing advanced imaging techniques to quantify myelination.

Overall, remyelination emerges as the sole therapy focused on repairing the neuro damage and improving the neurodegenerative conditions in MS patients, which is not currently fulfilled by existing treatments. This underscores remyelination as an inevitable treatment approach for both RRMS and PPMS.

Monoclonal antibodies continually transforming the MS treatment landscape

In recent years, mAbs have emerged as the indispensable treatment option for managing the relapsing forms of MS. These therapeutic agents offer high efficacy in managing symptoms while providing additional advantages such as ease of dosing and lower side effects compared to traditional therapies.

Given the promising potential of this therapeutic approach, pharma companies strive to introduce novel mAbs targeting different cells, molecular pathways, or molecules. Interestingly, new mAbs are also being developed to help repair the damage or disability that has already occurred. Thus, mAbs aim not only to alleviate symptoms but also repair the damage caused by MS, potentially reversing disability – a critical unmet need in the MS treatment landscape.

Among all the mAbs approved, antibodies that target the CD20 molecule (a protein found on the surface of B-cells) have gained significant interest lately. In recent years, the FDA has approved various therapies targeting anti-CD20 molecule. Currently, anti-CD20 mAbs such as Ocrelizumab, Natalizumab, Ofatumumab, Ublituximab, and Rituximab are used for the treatment of MS. Ocrelizumab, developed by Roche, stands out as the only mAb approved for treating both RRMS and PPMS. Ublituximab, developed by TG Therapeutics, is the latest addition to this group, approved by the FDA in 2022.

The mAb market is highly competitive. Hence, companies have been increasingly seeking to differentiate their products based on parameters such as efficacy, safety, and dosing convenience to capture larger market shares. For instance, Novartis considers the ease of administration to be the primary differentiating factor to help drive its mAb sales. The company launched Ofatumumab in 2020, the only mAb that can be administered via injection for treating RRMS. Similarly, Roche is developing Ocrevus subcutaneous injection version similar to the IV infusion. Phase 3 trials are currently underway to evaluate the drug to treat both RRMS and PPMS.

Companies have also been looking to differentiate their drugs in terms of safety. The common side effect of MS therapies is lymphopenia, i.e., lymphocyte depletion, which can pose risks, such as increased vulnerability to infections. To address this, Sanofi is developing a CD40-based mAb named Frexalimab to treat RRMS and SPMS. CD40L is a protein that activates the innate and adaptive immune systems in humans. Sanofi’s phase 2 trials investigating Frexalimab rapidly reduced the disease activity up to 89% without depleting the lymphocytes, thus offering a safer treatment option. Sanofi already has a strong MS pipeline with its BTK drug, Tolebrutinib, to be approved in 2024. Frexalimab, once approved, is expected to further boost the company’s market share.

While mAbs are promising, factors such as high prices hinder their market penetration. Consequently, companies have been looking to develop biosimilar compounds for mAbs, aiming to lower drug prices while simultaneously maintaining and expanding their market share. For instance, in August 2023, the FDA approved Tyruko, a monoclonal antibody that is a biosimilar version of Biogen’s Natalizumab, for treating RRMS. Overall, an increased interest in R&D, coupled with the number of clinical trials underway indicate that mAbs will remain a favored approach in MS treatment for the foreseeable future.

EOS Perspective

The MS treatment market is expected to witness significant growth, reaching a value of US$39 billion by 2032. The increasing prevalence of MS and the demand for highly effective therapies are driving pharma companies to investigate and develop novel drugs. Extensive R&D efforts and the high unmet needs for treating PPMS and SPMS are the other key factors fueling market growth. In addition, governments worldwide are actively supporting drug research with substantial funding.

To gain higher market shares in the competitive MS market, pharma companies are fiercely focusing on innovation and differentiation. They are conducting extensive clinical trials to demonstrate their drugs’ efficacy and superiority. Additionally, these companies are striving to innovate in other aspects, such as drug safety, tolerability, ease of dosing, and convenient routes of administration.

The primary challenge slowing market growth is the high cost of drugs. MS drugs are very expensive, with prices consistently rising each year. According to a 2019 survey published by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, 40% of respondents terminated their treatment due to the high costs of DMTs. Hence, companies must navigate reimbursement processes and negotiate drug prices with payers to ensure broad patient access and increased market penetration.

Other challenges inhibiting the market growth include patent expiration and the complex nature of MS. Patent expiration allows low-priced generics to enter the market, negatively impacting drug sales. Additionally, the disease’s high heterogeneity limits companies’ ability to develop therapies for the long term.

However, despite these challenges, the MS treatment market looks promising and is continually evolving. In recent years, the treatment landscape has shifted towards introducing highly efficient and safer therapies earlier in the disease course to prevent complications in the longer term. Consequently, companies demonstrating higher drug efficacy are expected to gain a significant foothold in the market. In addition, substantial opportunities exist for companies that address neuroprotection, as the majority of the existing treatments primarily target the inflammatory part of the disease.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Will Pharma Tweet Louder? 6 Rules of Doing it Right on Social Media

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Initially considered to be exclusively a tool for common people to connect with friends and share their private pictures, social media platforms have now gained the status of a potent communication channel eagerly used by companies across the world. While the expansion of social media is influencing the way businesses are conducted today, pharma and healthcare industry has been somewhat slow and reluctant to use it to its fullest potential.

By 2012, Facebook user base crossed 1 billion mark, increasing by 200 times since 2005, while Twitter recorded tremendous growth, reporting 200 million active users sharing 400 million tweets per day. While some industries such as consumer goods, retail, and hospitality have been benefitting from engaging with their customers through a range of social media platforms, other sectors, including pharma and healthcare, have been slow to join the ‘social crowd’.

Points of concern

There is a reason why healthcare-related sectors were late on the social media map. Creating an open platform for communication on health and drugs aspects, raises a range of concerns: the FDA regulations, patient confidentiality, cyber security, unavoidable off-label use discussions, uncontrolled negative comments, and risks of providing wrong medical advice that could lead to lawsuits. The FDA in particular, plays an important role here, through its Division of Drug Marketing, Advertising and Communications (DDMAC), which lays out the rules of the content that can and cannot be communicated, what content must be included and the manner in which the communication must occur. The fears associated with social media activity monitoring by the FDA, typically originate from three problems:

  • Lack of clarity and formal guidelines – in 2011, the FDA published draft guidelines, and it is yet to develop definitive rules on social media policy. The FDA is acting slow, and there is no clarity on dos and don’ts for social media engagement, yet the authority regularly scans the social space to monitor risky communication, while pharma companies find the rules of the game ambiguous

  • User-initiated off-label use discussions – a common issue in pharma social media platforms is user questions and discussions on off-label use of drugs, i.e. using a drug in a different way than described in the approved drug label or leaflet. This is considered unsolicited content and companies must respond and correct such a content occurring in public forum as these discussions might encourage dangerous experiments with drugs by patients or might be confused with recommended and approved use of a drug

  • Adverse event reporting obligation – the FDA obliged pharma companies to immediately report any adverse drug effect or reaction they learn about. Social media give platform for large numbers of patients to share their experience with adverse drugs effects, and the companies are afraid they will have to report it, which may cause investigations, bad press, and might lead drug being banned from sale

Similar fears are faced by non-US pharma companies too, as the FDA’s local counterpart authorities introduce similar regulations on communication via social media, which at times can be even stricter than the American ones.

Game worth the candle

Ignoring the risks by pharma companies can unfold a range of undesirable scenarios, a fact that has kept many drug makers hesitant of engaging in social media for quite some time. But this does not mean that pharma and healthcare organizations are still not present in social media at all. To the contrary, pharma companies, healthcare providers, device manufacturers, and health insurers have started to listen and engage with users through social platforms, though many of them still do it cautiously and have still not been able to unlock the social media’s full potential. These players have started to understand that with careful moves, the benefits will outweigh the risks:

  • generate engagement and discussion around health issues, which contributes to the positive reputation and brand image, and obviously – increase sales,

  • get quick, cheap, first-hand information on drugs’ effects on a large scale, which brings valuable insights that are not available from regular clinical trials whose scale is always smaller,

  • gather information invaluable in building marketing strategies, including pointers on price perceptions, drug availability as well as patients’ opinions about competitors’ drugs.

Who’s doing it?

Though it was estimated that in 2011, 90% of the pharmaceutical industry was still inactive on social media, currently, this has changed (though today’s participation share is unknown). Several pharma-sponsored communities are now active across Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google Plus, on one or multiple platforms, with a differing level of interactivity and different weight being put on inbound versus outbound marketing. Some of the examples include:

  • Roche’s Accu-Check Diabetes Link, a diabetes-support community with information, discussions, and blogs

  • GSK’s Alli Circles well-being, weight loss, and health community

  • Novartis’ CV Voice for cystic fibrosis patients and Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia own community-based site CML Earth

  • Pfizer’s community ‘getold.com’ targeting the expanding elderly group of the American population

  • Sanofi US’ Diabetes support community

  • Soon-to-be-launched Boehringer Ingelheim’s Facebook-based game, where players create and operate their own pharmaceutical firm, and discover imaginary medicines through virtual laboratory

Getting it right

It appears that the healthcare industry is finally attempting to catch up on the social media revolution in spite of a slow start. From primarily information dissemination, it is now moving towards real time engagement between physicians, patients, and other stakeholders. Soon, developing a social media policy will no longer be an option for pharma companies. But this should not be seen as a burden, but rather as an immense opportunity for the pharmaceutical companies to develop trust, build brand image, and impart health education. Drug makers that want to be successful on their social media path should consider 6 basic rules of online presence for pharma companies:

  1. Take your risks seriously – social media engagements, especially in pharma domain, always raise privacy, legal, and confidentiality concerns among the participants and monitoring bodies. Extra cautiousness in operating online communities is of utmost importance, including constant monitoring of the content being added by individual users and patients. Social platforms also pose risk of incorrect drug information or unfair accusations that might damage your image, but it can be flipped to an advantage, using the platform to quickly clarify and avert unwanted comments, provided that you have a dedicated, competent staff handling your social media

  2. Control your speakers – given the high risks and ambiguity of formal guidelines, there is a need for internal policy or guideline book listing dos and don’ts for online communication, content approval process, crisis management practice, confidential information sharing policy for employees running social platforms on behalf of the company

  3. Know your target audience – the social media pharma-related content must stay relevant and target focused groups to have the right impact. Patients with a particular disease or ailment look for relevant, detailed information, and they typically already know quite a bit about the problem. Expertise must be shown along with dedication to creating high quality content, that is useful, new, and (ideally) entertaining

  4. Get the objective right – social media is not another advertising board. The primary aim of the social media presence is to generate engagement as well as share and manage knowledge by facilitating interaction and discussions. This must take precedence over advertising

  5. Be transparent – transparency is always appreciated by consumers and patients. The link with the company must be clear, users working for the company must disclose their affiliation, and negative comments, unless unjustified or vulgar, cannot be censored

  6. Understand that social media are not a lone island – social media activity and content must be aligned with overall marketing strategy and be used cohesively with all other marketing channels, ideally to complement each other. Social media cannot become a neglected child of the marketing department in a long run, it must be maintained actively and linked to other marketing efforts whenever possible (e.g. to disseminate important announcement teasers, generating traffic to blog entries, or provide interactive content as part of larger marketing campaign including traditional media)

Social media engagements by drug makers might seem only as a nice publicity stunt, but it is so much more than that. Pharma companies, as most players across many industries, finally started to realize that listening and engaging with conversation with the customer pays off in many aspects. Just as was the case in consumer goods or retail sectors, social media will continue to change the pharma industry on a large scale. Players who want to matter, should not allow themselves to stay behind, even considering the risks involved.

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