Pharma Strategy Blog

Commentary on Pharma & Biotech Oncology / Hematology New Product Development

Today several people have reminded me that it’s Canada Day and also the Independence Day weekend in the US.   Although I’m British and celebrate neither, there will be a short hiatus from blogging in honour of my Canuck and American friends.

We’ll be working unfortunately, such is the life as a consultant, with deadlines galore due next week!

For those of you anxious not to miss anything hot on the social media front, check out this article from BioWorld on Biotechs and Social Media, kindly sent in by Drs Brian Orelli and Al Lalani.

Here’s an interesting quote from the research:

In an informal BioWorld Today survey, more than 44 percent (95) of the 215 respondents said their firms are not engaging in social media.  The No. 1 reason, listed by 42 percent, was that social media “was not the place for us.”

I can understand that approach completely – social media is about engagement and sharing; dealing with the challenges of unhappy patients complaining publicly online via social media puts Pharma in an awkward spot regarding how to handle issues that may arise:

The biggest concern the companies had with social media was how to balance the risks and benefits. That balance was cited by nearly half the respondents.  Other top concerns were dealing with third-party comments and opening themselves to liability.

The short article is well worth reading.  It reminds me of the dilemma a client recently expressed:

“Do we continue to focus strategically on research & development, trying to find cures for cancer, or do we allow ourselves to be distracted by other issues like shiny new tools and tactics?  I only have so much time in a day.”

Fair point indeed and a dilemma that many of you will already be discussing offline. There is no right or wrong answer – you can only do the best you can with the time and resources you have available.

In the meantime, Pharma Strategy Blog will resume as usual on Tuesday.

Happy Holidays to all!



11 Responses to “Should Pharma and Biotech be engaging in social media?”

  1. Anonymous

    So, you don’t think installing transparency via social media would increase the public’s ease with pharma and biotech?

    I would guess that the lack of transparency coupled with the fear that comes with any major medical issue is what causes the friction between the two groups. Which is terrible because pharma and biotech save lives. The public should see them as fire-fighters, not corporate behemoths.

    It’s not a profit issue (who begrudges the company from making money on a product that took years and millions of dollars/euros to develop?). It’s the fact that there’s no connection/transparency between the groups. The wall built buy regulatory agencies to protect each from the other is now having its own adverse event.



    • maverickny

      Hi James, It’s a loaded question, transparency.  I’ve gone back and forward with this issue many times myself and also with clients and friends in the industry, with no real resolution on the topic so far.

      Most of the work I do is in oncology new products before drugs come to market, so the focus is very much on disease education and clinical trials.  Those are admirable things to use social media for, both alone, and in partnership with Academia and Patient Advocacy groups.  There’s a lot of good that can out of those things.  You only have to look at the success Dr Anas Younes of MDACC has had with finding and recruiting eligible patients for studies with targeted therapies, or the excellent medical education that eg Genentech provides on its new cancer products in development at  Sadly you can’t share the superb videos etc with others though – that would be one area where I would start – allow the science to be shared with others, whether scientists, physicians, general public etc through social media.

      Where it gets sticky, transparency wise, it when products are approved and marketing comes in.  Then you’re in the world of channels, distribution, investors, analysts etc and the focus changes from science and research to commercialisation and sales revenues.

      I totally agree that the industry could do a much better job at transparency and outreach, after all, Pharma is pretty much at the bottom of the public respect pile along with oil and banking :(.  Unless we change things at the top, ie the board level and see things filter down, I don’t see how social media will ultimately change the overall perception in the long run if boards still do stupid things.  

      Sadly, the industry changed for the worse when we started getting more lawyers, accountants and financiers at the helm instead of scientists.

      • Anonymous

        Yes, science is supposed to be shared. It’s the only way we all get better at science, right? That’s why we have patent offices and conferences: so we can all see how they got there and think about how we can use that logic/process/idea to move our own thinking forward.

        I never thought of patient recruitment for studies as an opportunity for social media, but that’s perfect. Pharma needs to develop a partnership with its customers, not just to lower the animosity directed pharma’s way (though that would be nice), but to increase pharma’s ability to understand their customer, which always leads to better/smarter/faster product development.

        No one is suggesting that regulation should be binned, but that regulation needs to treat the two groups as partners instead of adversaries. Social media is a fantastic tool to start opening up those lines of communication. Look at newspapers: 10 years ago, you had to know a reporter to talk to them. Now they all have twitter accounts and can talk about the decisions made in today’s issue. Social media’s most powerful attribute is its ability to poke holes into institutions that normally only communicate in the most practiced and managed of ways (boring!).

        Also, name an industry that benefited from a deluge of lawyers, accountants and financiers! Pharma’s hardly alone here.


        • maverickny

          Couldn’t agree with you more on partnerships, James!  I must say I thoroughly enjoyed the ones we developed while on the new products/marketing side – when you get them right, they end up as solid relationships with trust on both sides working towards common aims for greater good.  It is a people business after all.  

          I’m just leery of using social media as a foghorn for amplifying corporate messages… that just becomes a one-way shouting match into cyberspace whether it be FB, Twitter, whatever.

          Sometimes, third parties do these things very well.  Take a look at what ClinicAid are doing with promoting clinical trial access for example – their site is much nicer and easier to use than 


          Pharma could do a lot worse than hire some superb graphic designers, UI/UX experts and create more usable websites that are also mobile friendly for patient information and their clinical trials.  Putting up an unfriendly link to just doesn’t cut it anymore.  I might use that site but for patients and caregivers, it’s not very intuitive or user friendly at all.

          • Anonymous

            Re: Social media as a tool to amplify marketing message. 

            I could not agree more. That’s why I prefer to use the Seth Godin model of marketing, which focuses building a connection between company and customer to determine the best products to bring to market in a manner that brings the most benefit to the customer. 

            The “standard” model of marketing, where it’s just a lot of yelling “Buy my crap!” over and over in every channel they can find is worthless. Social media does a great job shining a mirror to the standard model to show it how silly and counter-productive it’s become.

            Social media is 100% about the conversation. The Cluetrain Manifesto remains the seminal and relevant work on the subject (to anyone who hasn’t read it yet: please do! It’s free online!). 

          • maverickny

            Connections are critical, absolutely.  The interesting thing is what will happen next month in Pharmaland, when FB turn off the ability to comment on their Pages.  I wonder how many brands/companies will ditch the tactic altogether rather than face engaging with allcomers? 

    • maverickny

      Hah, good riposte!  I absolutely do see the benefit of social media – for some things –  just not a blanket use of it as a distribution/promotion channel for pushing messages.  That kind of one-way conversation drives me nuts because if you respond to it, more often than not you will get the standard, “Sorry, I can’t talk about that in public” and the walls come crashing down again.

  2. Rjs9787

    I was talking to a life science President who repeated a similar rationale about not wanting to lose focus on R and D. I laughed and told him there is no need to distract the research aassociates or scientists. I don’t think there is an understanding of how social media can be utilized. Sabine Kostevc, for example, has been a tremendous asset to Roche.

    • Anonymous

      Start sending the posts!

    • maverickny

      Totally agree re: Sabine (@skoko:twitter ) she rocks!  Fast and helpful responses, most excellent.

      John Pugh (@boehringer:twitter ) is also responsive and doing some nice things, social media wise.

      I wasn’t thinking of the researchers and scientists, though, but rather the new products and marketing people.  They are stakeholders too, after all.

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