Pharma can learn lesson from GSK re: Avandia, social media

Pharmaceutical companies, and any business for that matter, can use social media to communicate directly with customers. They can also use it to monitor their publics’ reaction and get feedback – both directly and indirectly.

According to one report that crossed my Twitter feed this week, pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline could have found out about adverse events with its diabetes drug Avandia if it had been monitoring social media in 2004 – two years before meta analysis officially linked the product to a higher risk of heart attack.

Obviously, few, if any, businesses monitored social media in 2004. But message boards and blogs (albeit more rudimentary ones than found today) did exist then. And according to Marc Iskowitz of Medical Marketing and Media, even then, consumers were raising questions about Avandia’s safety on blogs and message boards.

There is a lesson here for GSK and other pharmaceutical manufacturers reluctant to embrace social media: use those tools to hear what your customers are saying. You may be able to nip a problem in the bud before it becomes an all-out catastrophe for your business.

Since GSK didn’t actively monitor social media back in 2004, Avandia’s potential safety issues didn’t come to light until 2006. Now the product has become the subject of more than 13,000 lawsuits (of which GSK has settled approximately 11,500). Late last month, the European Medicines Agency recommended that Avandia be removed from the European Market. The drug is also under investigation by the FDA in the United States. And Avandia sales dropped by almost 50% from 2006 to 2009.

Had GSK seen that patients were complaining sooner, it might have been able to identify the problems, or potential problems, on its own, before someone else did. It still may have lost some sales, but it would have avoided the PR damage. It could have demonstrated transparency in an industry that has very little of it and quickly worked to rebuild trust with its customers and the general public.

Hopefully, now that even pharmaceutical companies are increasingly using social media, they will learn their lesson.


3 Responses to Pharma can learn lesson from GSK re: Avandia, social media

  1. Krista says:

    Well put, Josh! One of the challenges of social media monitoring is the sheer volume of opinions and voices out there, that businesses may be intimidated to make the trek into unchartered territory. But it shouldn’t be an excuse for not listening to customers, especially considering that large consumer corporations (Comcast, Starbucks) have successfully demonstrated how social media monitoring has improved their customer relations. Phama is slowly coming on board with social media, but I suspect the lack of clear regulations and direction from the FDA is part of the issue as well.

  2. Pingback: Clinical trial sponsors, investigators must now account for social media in study designs « On Message

  3. Pingback: Are pharma companies playing hide and seek? | The Sandpit

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