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November 22, 2017

Remember the last time you walked into your neighborhood pharmacy to buy some over-the-counter (OTC) drug for a splitting headache? The medicine might have come at the cost of pocket change, but do we really know how much time and effort is invested into getting a formulation to the market?

On an average, It takes as much as EUR 1.5bn and approximately 12 years to complete R&D, run clinical trials, and get regulatory approval before a new drug gets anywhere close to the pharmacy shelves. Even the initial phases of drug discovery experience 90% failure, especially when it comes to finding pharmaceutical treatments for complex and poorly understood conditions. As outlandish as it may seem, the pharma industry has remained undeterred by these setbacks and continues to outspend the aerospace and defense (A&D), chemicals, and IT sectors in terms of R&D.

Risk-averse R&D

However, when we take a closer look at these other industries, we are more than likely to discover how their R&D process differs from that of pharma. Most of them use social media to guide their new product development process by factoring in consumer sentiments and insights gleaned from the voice of the customer (VOC) that echoes across digital platforms as ‘likes’ and ‘shares’ among others.

While automakers and airlines alike have ventured forth into the realm of social media, pharma companies have, by and large, chosen to play it conservatively. Concerns surrounding compliance with evolving regulatory guidelines have no doubt held them back, and the lack of control over product pricing has forced these companies to shy away from investing in such computer-mediated technologies. Although it is clear that the drug discovery process will continue to be a top priority, we might want to ask ourselves: Can social media find a place in pharmaceutical R&D and help researchers collaborate better?

When a new drug is launched, a significant part of the product’s success hinges on taking it to market before the competition does while actively protecting the associated intellectual property rights (IPR). As pharma companies begin to feel the heat from working with faster, shorter product lifecycles, a single source of truth for research, patient, process, and formulation data can provide much needed help during the crucial early years of R&D.

Social Medicine – Share, Collaborate, Discover

Given how competitive the industry is, it might be difficult to bring multiple stakeholders contesting for the same market share on to the same platform and exchange information transparently. This is why it is important to establish the neutrality of such a forum which will encourage doctors, clinicians, and researchers to openly share knowledge for the sake of scientific progress. Alternatively, the platform could be operated as a subscription-based service wherein R&D teams can place requests for accessing all published literature such as whitepapers and trial reports associated with a specific drug or formulation. Once such a request is received, the system will automatically deliver a defined number of appropriate documents – listing them out according to their relevance to the search query. This means data which may have taken years to find, sort, and gain access to can be acquired almost instantaneously and can help pharma companies streamline their R&D process.

Beyond the obvious, the platform can be further modified to act not just as a repository but also as a forum for sharing medical insights and discussing trends in near real-time. Similar to how the posts and comments functions work on portals like Facebook, users can broadcast questions and findings while other stakeholders share opinions and even review publications. Additionally, there are online listening tools that enable related conversations based on keyword aggregates. Once a user replies to such conversations, it will answer their query as well as direct them to related platforms for better services.

Going forward, we can only begin to imagine how such a platform can be integrated deeper into the pharmaceutical R&D and drug development value chain. A step in that direction would be to bring in chemical manufacturing companies onboard whereby pharma companies can hope to gain an ecommerce-like experience while sourcing materials. Just imagine what it would be like to place an order online for a biochemical product—with a single click.

Nilesh Gharge is a Digital Marketing Specialist with extensive knowledge in the Pharma, Life Sciences and Healthcare domain. He has played a key role in prescribing go-to-market strategies for launching pharma products. He has a rich experience in promoting businesses using latest online marketing techniques, and is particularly drawn to activities related to branding, advertising, and influencers-cum-PR relations. He manages Social Media monitoring projects for the pharma domain at TCS, and has successfully implemented automation to optimize the processes.


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