Pharma struggling with social media
The FDA's recent warning letter to Novartis about a Facebook widgit has highlighted the challenge pharma faces in trying to make effective use of social media tools without stepping on the toes of regulators.
Can it ever be regulated?
Even now, more than a year later, there are no specific regulations that address pharma's use of the internet and social media tools, although the FDA did take the first steps towards this in November 2009 when it held a public hearing to discuss the situation. According to the hearing, social media is more than just a trend and will play an even greater role in the lives of consumers going forward. However, many pharma representatives explained that they were uneasy about using such tools because of a lack of guidelines. In particular, companies were unsure about how responsible they were for monitoring the internet for incidents such as inaccurate or off-label commentary.
A range of possible solutions were discussed, including the establishment of working groups to keep an eye on e-developments. The FDA has said it will review all the information from the hearing, but to date there is still no word on any official guidance. In its report, Ernst & Young also adds that one of the biggest questions will be whether regulators can establish and maintain guidelines capable of keeping pace with the speed at which the internet is evolving.
For now, pharma's foray into social media has been understandably slow and Burbary adds that the industry's best move remains "uncertain". He explained: "Some companies may choose to wait on the sidelines — a decision not as safe as it may seem — while others may be willing to test the water in small pilot programmes that aim to minimise risk."
As for Novartis, the company was quick to remove the widgit in question, as well as all other social media widgits that used to appear on the Tasigna page. However, the company hasn't been scared away from social media completely, as it still operates and updates its YouTube channel.