Pharmalot: Why form this coalition? Bard: I spent the better part of the past decade at Manhattan Research looking at technology and innovations and how people are interacting with the internet to get information. Even before we heard terms like social media, we saw patents were trying to get access to specific information and physicians would as well. Over time, we wanted to see what was possible. And as you know, from 2000 to 2010, the experience became very different - from looking at the Internet like it was an encyclopedia to something where you’re talking to people.
Pharmalot: Was there a specific impetus, though? Bard: Well, over time, we would talk about how the pharmacuetical industry would become part of the conversation and every year it was the same thing - what was the barrier? Regulatory, legal. Then, in November 2009, the FDA had their public hearing on social media and everyone came and did the dog and pony show. I was one of many speakers. But we still had to answer the questions about what the physician wants and what do consumers want? There was a good overview, but no solution. And I think what we learned from the process was that there was a good conversation, but there’s been a lot of frustration. We need to set guardrails and parameters. The reality check for a lot of folks is that DDMAC (the FDA’s Division of Drug Marketing, Advertising and Communications) probably won’t come out and say the 10 things you need to do. Even if they come out with guidance, most folks in the pharmaceutical and health industries still wouldn’t know what to do, because they haven’t thought through the whole thing…
Pharmalot: What exactly do you hope to accomplish, though? Bard: One thing that came to mind is whether we can pull together a network, like a meet up or a tweet up. The thought was if you do that in a somewhat loose manner, you can have conversations, but not a hard-defined approach or mission. So is there a way to do this as a structured group and have people feel like it’s an entity with participation and working toward goals? So we hit on a non profit, a quasi think tank. But it’s not just talking and waxing philosophical. We hope there’ll be a way to come to agreement on certain things, such as responsible digital marketing, and look at how we can attack some of these problems. But not using legalese. We hope to have practical solutions, to use tools to solve problems.
Pharmalot: You have a fair number of pharma people on the board. Do you plan to widen the representation? And if so, how? With more patient groups? Bard: We looked at buckets of pharmaceuticals and technology, and the other is kind of regulatory. We do plan to build out patient advocacy. Obviously, there’s a lot of industry interest. We don’t want it too top heavy. We don’t want it be a majority. We do need to beef up other parts. Ideally, it would be one-third pharmaceuticals, one-third tech and one-third a combination of patient advocate and regulatory, too. Maybe the kind of former FDA people you typically see in law firms or they’re independent consultants, but they understand process where marketing folks may not.
Pharmalot: We recently asked some drugmakers about their reactions to the upcoming changes at Facebook (in which pharma will no longer be able to disable comments on main pages). How tough of a spot are they in and what should they do? Bard: What to do is uncertain. But we don’t have an option. It’s really an unfortunate situation where folks look at something and say they don’t have a solution. Look, these weren’t amazing Facebook strategies to begin with. Their presence on what is, by nature, an interactive platform is not interactive. We’re calling out the fact that they want a brand experience with interactive platform, but they’re not interactive. The reaction from industry is a perfect example of some of the things we’re trying to attack. So how can this be used? They need to have a process in place. If someone reports an adverse event, let’s come to some agreement there’s value and utility in Facebook the same way you see YouTube, but not a static one-way channel.
Pharmalot: What do you make of the fact that some may walk away, even as a last resort? (back story) Bard: It’s unfortunate. Looking at the very nature of it, you don’t need market research to prove it. When someone wants to interact on a social platform, some kind of experience is an expectation. Leaving a billboard is not in sync with what Facebook is or social media is. I don’t think it’s in anyone’s best interest to let things go stale in a rapidly evolving world. And don’t’ look at the world today, but try to look at it in 2015. It’s going to be a lot more interactive and transparent.