Pharma gets social: How Novartis is transforming clinical trials with social media

Daniel Ghinn spotlights how this pharma company is facilitating take up of clinical trials via website tools and Twitter feeds.

‘Want to learn about a clinical trial targeting patients who have tumours with ALK or ROS1 gene alterations?’ reads a recent tweet from @NovartisCancrUS, Novartis’ Twitter channel dedicated to its cancer trials in the US. The channel features a stream of tweets promoting the company’s cancer clinical trials in the US to its almost-10,000 followers, which include a diverse range of individuals and organisations.

The reach of @NovartisCancrUS goes further than its followers alone – most tweets sent from the channel achieve some level of engagement with patients, organisations or healthcare professionals. Medical oncologist Tracey Weisberg MD, a breast cancer specialist, shared a tweet from the account, linked to details of a phase II study on ‘RT to help spread awareness of #NCT02069093, our clinical trial for stomatitis prevention in #BreastCancer patients’.

Novartis is clear on the channel’s profile that the Twitter feed is intended purely for a US audience, describing it as ‘The official Twitter profile for news and information on Novartis-sponsored cancer trials in the US only’ and featuring a tweet pinned to the top of its profile that reads ‘@NovartisCancrUS is intended for #cancer #ClinicalTrials in the United States only, and provides no information on trials outside the US’.

Tweets about clinical trials link to relevant resources where patients, their carers or doctors can find more information; many link to US clinical trials site, or Novartis-owned platforms.

A global interactive database of Novartis clinical trials

One such Novartis platform, the Novartis Clinical Trials website, supports clinical trials taking place worldwide and provides users with an interactive tool for finding relevant trials taking place near their location, or indeed anywhere in the world. Unlike the Twitter channel, this website is for an international audience and uses location technology to immediately show clinical trial ‘opportunities near you’. A GPS search function allows users to see all the trials taking place in their country, by location. The site feels like a useful resource for patients that helps Novartis find and connect with trial candidates too.

Novartis shows the closest clinical trial opportunities to your current location.

For those looking further afield, the site features a global search function that displays clinical trials taking place in any country.


Novartis’ clinical trials global search.

Enabling personalised trials

Meanwhile, back in the US, Novartis’ newest clinical trials website is dedicated to its ‘Signature‘ trial programme, which is designed to provide fast access to diverse trials to patients anywhere in the US.

‘Signature is a new kind of clinical trial developed by US Novartis Oncology’ says Novartis on the website. ‘Instead of traveling far to see a doctor, the patient can stay locally and be treated by a research doctor closer to home – no matter what kind of cancer the patient has.’

The programme is designed to provide rapid patient enrolment and what Novartis says is ‘precise matching of genetic alterations to potentially relevant drugs’. At the Personalised Medicine World Conference (PMWC) 2014, Steven H Stein, MD, senior vice president, US Clinical Development & Medical Affairs, Novartis Oncology US presented the Signature trial programme, describing it as ‘patient-triggered’ and outlining its novel design.

“It’s a way for us as a company to potentially get rapid proofs of concept in rare tumours, and then use that to inform future clinical development,” he said.

Transforming clinical trials through social media

What I find exciting about Novartis’ Signature trial programme is that it is a programme that would simply not have been possible if the company had not confidently taken its clinical trial recruitment online and into social media. Making a trial programme available means ensuring that patients anywhere in the US are able to connect with trial information, which is the very thing that seems to be at the heart of its NovartisOncologyUS Twitter account.

About the author:

Daniel Ghinn is CEO of Creation Healthcare, the online research consultancy for healthcare. He tweets at @EngagementStrat.

Read more from Daniel Ghinn’s monthly Pharma Gets Social series:

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