Could Social Media be used in Drug Development?

social-media-bandwagonWe’ve all heard of social media being used within marketing and PR. It’s even been known to help patients manage their medical conditions or to increase disease awareness. But according to The Boston Globe, social media could also be used to help facilitate drug development.

It’s possible that pharmaceutical companies could gather information from prescribers via social media which then may help to find new uses or benefits for existing drugs.  For example, in the past, without the use of social media, an anti-tuberculosis drug was found to increase patients sense of well-being, whilst Viagra was developed as a result of a clinical trial of drug for chest pain.

Some believe that a social network focused on patients and physicians sharing their experiences of different drugs could be invaluable. It could lead to the discovery of new uses of drugs and unanticipated benefits of others – thus leading to more and more research studies which are shared on this open platform.

So why, in the age of Twitter and Facebook, isn’t social media and new technology being harnessed to aid drug discovery?  There are already a number of sites that are half way there – for instance, on the website PatientsLikeMe, patients openly share their experiences of different drugs.

There are other websites which have been set up my governmental organizations such as NIH and Sage Bionetworks. However, an open forum, or even a community in which both patients and physicians can interact is still lacking. But why? Well that’s simple, big pharmaceutical companies aren’t allowed. It seems that any attempt to research unexpected benefits would be frowned upon by regulators, and pharma companies could subsequently be hit with large fines and legal action.

Consequently, there is a call for regulators to consider the benefits of the role of social media in drug development and the risk that suppressing innovation in this field might lead to. Indeed, it cannot be denied that should patients and physicians share their experiences in an honest and coherent way, there could be a remarkable scope for the pharmaceutical industry to learn from existing drugs – thus accelerating the development of new medicines.

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Posted in: Industry News, News
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