Sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll are infiltrating pharma. Jacky Law reflects on the benefits of the digital world.
Epiphany moments come when you least expect them. I had the taste of one recently when I heard a senior pharma sales manager on video describing his previous life as a rock journalist. The jolt came not so much from a ‘sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll’ experience infiltrating the industry, but that the career move should have seemed so effortless. Far from there being no apology for not having slaved it out as a sales rep for years, a whole new world was to be glimpsed in the simple confession that the transition had been perfectly natural: same work, just pharmaceuticals instead of drugs.
Suddenly, there was greater insight into the sheer scale of development in the e-world and why people who can prefix their job-title with an ‘e’ are so sought after right now. I could see for the first time that just as one can never be too rich, too thin or too young, right now one can also never be too digital.
You don’t have to look far for reasons as someone has to take on the task of integrating this mounting wave of new collective and collaborative thinking into pharma’s famously conservative structures and processes. As a rule, the pharma mindset, at least at the marketing end of the business, has always believed that control of the message was not only possible but also desirable.
Digital, meanwhile, is more of a language. It can, and is, being used to try to control the message but new ways of working are being explored that use the medium’s connective and collaborative nature to maybe better effect. Knowing what to measure, how to measure, where to measure, are all up for grabs as teams become increasingly adept at integrating the powers of search and curiosity into the marketing mix.
A glimmer of the kinds of things that are possible came in an extension of the epiphany moment I described earlier when listening to Paul Wicks, R&D Director of PatientsLikeMe. Talking at the DigiPharm 2010 conference last week in London, Wicks described how patients, pharma’s real stakeholders, are gradually starting to demonstrate their power through sites like his and the changes they can produce in how their conditions are perceived and presented.
Sites like PatientsLikeMe, FaceBook, LinkedIn, YouTube, the ones that have become hugely popular because that is where everyone is, exert an influence and a power that is still being appreciated by e-illiterates like myself. My epiphany moments have been about a sense of the potential that is opening up as the practice of medicine evolves at a faster rate and in more dimensions than anyone – pharma, regulatory bodies, healthcare professionals, patients – previously realised. It really is very exciting.
Meanwhile, the PatientsLikeMe business — among others — presses on and produces, for example, its own validated real-time patient-reported research. The site is concentrating resources in a few communities — multiple sclerosis, HIV, fibromyalgia, organ transplants and epilepsy — and is actively seeking pharma companies to suggest how data in other disease areas might be used. Wick’s talk was called, ‘Maximizing data-driven partnerships between social media and pharma’, which means ‘Let us help you make sense of, and profit from, what patients are saying about their conditions, how they take their medicine, if they take their medicine, and a whole lot else that may become more important as the patient voice becomes louder still.
PatientsLikeMe is transformational because it makes it possible for patients to see new things as well as old things in new ways. They can see how they perform compared to other people with their condition, for example, or they can see what happens when patients like them take a ‘treatment holiday’. The most crucial thing, however, is that they have been given a real collective voice.
This voice, emanating from a digital way of interacting, could hardly be more different from the traditional pharma mindset and its engrained ‘control-the-message-at-all-costs’ instincts. But it is without doubt the voice of the future along with all those rock journalists and other geeks who not only get what is happening but are also in a position to help shape it.