Do you think that social networks are only good for sharing what's for dinner, notifying the planet what flavor of coffee's in your cup or looking up old high school friends? It may be time to reassess.
Social media in the pharma space is a dicey subject. Companies really want to do it (that fact has driven the popularity our recent event The FDA and Social Media), but they are unsure of whether or how to proceed. We have previously talked about online communities EsTuDiabetes and Patientslikeme but they are still the exception.
Still, they are serious about getting into clinical research. Here is PatientsLikeMe's Jamie Heywood at TEDMED 2009:
So it was interesting to see Nature Biotechnology [PDF link] publishing the results of an online trial run by PatientsLikeMe. The article describes how PatientsLikeMe assessed the clinical benefit of an unapproved therapy by analyzing the relevant discussions on their web site.
Almost 600 patients suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) signed up for the study. After sifting through millions of data points, PatientsLikeMe reported that they found "no effect of lithium on disease progression" - in effect confirming the lack of clinical benefit found through traditional clinical trials.
The idea that social networks could speed up the process of finding new ways of saving and improving lives is really fricking cool. There are some tremendous advantages to using online communities in clinical research, and Pharmalot mentioned three: speed, access to rare patient populations, and availability of control participants.
On the other hand, big questions remain. The Wall Street Journal's Health Blog includes this quote in its coverage:
"The question now is what is the proper way of managing it and feeding it back into traditional science."Clinical research is a multi-billion-dollar-a-year industry. It's unlikely that established providers and professionals will just sit back and let online communities make inroads into their business. Get ready for some well-fought and interesting fights!
(On a related note, take a look at how social media is impacting industries as diverse as translation, pharmaceuticals, and food and beverages.)
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Categories: clinical research