PharmExec Blog

Hepatitis C: Engaging Patients Online

Given the amount of activity in the hepatitis C drug development space – as evidenced in PharmExec’s 2013 Pipeline report – patients are scouring the internet for information on the disease, available treatments, and soon to be available treatments. A new Industry Standard Research report examines the digital cracks consumers encounter when looking for information and treatments, and how to potentially fill them.

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Andrew Schafer, president, ISR

Unlike other therapeutic areas, like diabetes, for example, there aren’t currently a lot of brands for HCV on the market – yet – and most patients searching online for therapies tend to land on branded sites for products made by either Vertex or Genentech, according to Andrew Shafer, president of Industry Standards Research (ISR) and author of a new report on the HCV category.

However, different search terms returned different brands in the category. For example, consumers looking to find more information about the disease tended to land on branded content for Vertex’s Incivek. Consumers in the pre-diagnosis stage, who used search terms like “Do I have Hep C?” were more likely to land on branded content supporting Genentech/Roche’s Pegasys. In both cases, however, websites were further down the list of search results. Specific search requests for information about medicines and side effects tended to return similar results, but more general search inquires about the disease, it’s a mixed bag for consumers.

“What’s happening is that there’s not a go-to source for information on hep C,” says Schafer. “Online searchers are getting piecemeal information, so they’re going to another site as their search continues.” Schafer says there are two ways to counteract the problem of fickle web searchers and poor organic results for brands: paid search, or the creation of a destination site for hepatitis C information. “Pharma is getting better at providing independent information to patients,” notes Schafer.

Another consideration for digital marketers in the HCV space is where to focus resources in the social realm. According to the ISR report, consumers are willing to discuss and ask for information about HCV on Facebook at a higher rate – four to one – than they are on Twitter. Shafer speculates that Twitter is used less frequently in this case because discussions are more public on Twitter, whereas Facebook is more of a closed, private social network.

Another opportunity for companies with an established presence in HCV, and newcomers to the space, is to build an “influencer network,” to keep new information and announcements front and center online. Last May, the CDC made an announcement urging baby boomers to get screened for HCV. Although there was a spike in online conversation around this announcement, it only lasted for a couple of days, according to the ISR report. “If someone wants to own [the HCV] space, whether it’s Vertex or Genentech or whomever…I think it’s in everyone’s interest – pharma, patients, providers – to grow the influencer network, so that these kinds of stories have longer legs, and more people get tested,” says Shafer.

This is particularly true in HCV, since “the vast majority of people that have it don’t know they have it,” says Shafer. “From a pharma perspective, increasing your addressable market by going out and testing everybody is probably a pretty good investment.”

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