Untapping the potential of social media for pharma

Interview with Glenn Byrd

MedImmune LLC

The healthcare industry is discovering the opportunities that social media can offer, such as increased patient-physician interaction and service integration. However, this new platform also brings with it some risks – both known and unknown – that must be carefully managed.

Glenn Byrd currently heads up the Advertising and Promotion Regulatory team at MedImmune and was formerly the head of the Advertising and Promotional Labeling Branch (APLB) in the FDA Center for Biologics (CBER). Here he talks to Maeve McGovern and offers his insight on the issues surrounding social media use in Pharma.

Interview summary

MM: How can you look at improving your product simply by listening to the conversations online?

GB: When you look at this issue, particularly through a business or a customer service perspective, I think it’s easy to see that if you have insight into what your customers really want, then that kind of information helps companies produce products that customers will want to buy. That’s a broad issue not just for healthcare. A key thing here is making sure that not only are you listening, but you have a process in place that actually helps figure out how to act on what you are hearing. Listening is not enough if you are not doing anything about it. In a way it’s like real time market research, at least for our industry. You’re getting that real-time feedback but not by using your own stimuli, which may give you better information to act on.


“The industry has to figure out what tools actually work for certain kinds of communications.”


MM: What steps can be taken to improve communication between patient and doctor by implementing a social media strategy?

GB: One possible way is to use social media or other digital strategies to help patients comply with their medication dosing, especially where medications have specific dosing schedules or dietary restrictions. Once a patient opts in to use these kinds of tools, physicians and their offices can use those tools to keep patients on track using reminders or other forms of communication with them, even to the extent of scheduling follow-up appointments. It also gives patients the opportunity to be able to interact directly with physicians. What isn’t clear is how many patients and physicians are willing and able to engage in this kind of activity.

MM: What are the risks associated with using social media in the healthcare industry?

GB: We know about some of the risks, but for others, we just aren’t sure yet because this is a new way of interacting. The industry has to figure out what tools actually work for certain kinds of communications. We have to decide whether to passively or actively monitor social media activity. Those are things companies are trying to wrestle with right now. In some cases, from my regulatory perspective, there might be tools out there that just don’t provide the amount of detail, or don’t give you the means to provide the amount of detail that FDA regulations require. For example, if one decides that they want to communicate product information and in that same content talk about their patient population or maybe their indication, you then have the requirement to provide risk information to balance that discussion. In a tweet, for example, there is simply not enough real estate to do that in 140 characters. That poses a real challenge and real risks for companies. I think the risk really comes down to the choices a company makes. If they choose to have a product discussion then the risks go up. They also might choose to educate audiences around a particular disease or disease state, or they might use these tools to share corporate business communications – then I think the risks are lower.


“We’ve yet to see what kind of impact social media will have in regards to adverse event reporting.”


MM: When it comes to adverse event reporting practices, what positive contribution can social media make to this area?

GB: We’ve yet to see what kind of impact social media will have in regards to adverse event reporting. Our industry is working to figure this out right now. It’s also awaiting guidance from FDA that we hope to be coming out on this topic. That, combined with the guidance that the FDA is also working on around promotional use of social media tools, should help guide us around both the promotional aspect as well as the adverse events reporting aspects. The data I’ve heard presented to the FDA seems to signal that adverse event reporting might be lower than people think, but I believe it is too early to tell. The jury is still out on what role social media may play as things move forward.

About the interviewee:

Glenn heads up the Advertising and Promotions team at MedImmune and is responsible for managing all regulatory activities associated with external communications for MedImmune products. Glenn’s background includes having served as the Chief of the Advertising and Promotional Labeling Branch (APLB) in the FDA Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research (CBER) and as a scientific reviewer of interventional cardiology devices in the FDA Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH).

Glenn Byrd, is a speaker at the upcoming marcus evans Social Media for Pharma Conference from January 13-14, 2011 in Washington, DC, which, will take place from January 13-14, 2011 in Washington, DC.

What positive contributions can social media make to pharma?