Commentary

Pharma Mines Social Media For Drug Interactions

In addition to its core application of cat photo sharing, social media has a whole array of unexpected benefits that derive from people’s propensity to volunteer all kinds of rather personal information about themselves. Among its many unexpected uses, social networks are proving to be a goldmine for gathering healthcare insights in areas like epidemiology, mental health, and now adverse effects for drugs.

In the latest initiative, GlaxoSmithKline has collected a trove of social media data consisting of millions of posts about hundreds of drugs, including reports that actually led to the recall of one drug in Australia, according to MobiHealthNews, which reported on a presentation by GSK’s about the research at a pharma conference last week.

GSK worked with Epidemico, a technology company focused on healthcare insights owned by Booz Allen Hamilton, to surface and analyze 21 million posts mentioning its product on Facebook and Twitter, including 15 million posts on Facebook alone. Adverse reactions can include drug interactions and side effects. According to GSK pharmacovigilance exec Greg Powell, in one year GSK collected more reports than the FDA has compiled in its entire database since 1968.

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In Australia the reports led to the recall of an unspecified over-the-counter drug. The posts also revealed alternative treatments tried by patients, possible patterns of drug abuse (and how abusers share information with each other online), and qualitative assessments of drug effects, which give some insight into quality of life issues.

When analyzing social media posts the partners “de-identify” content to conform with FDA rules on privacy and drug effect reporting.

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