In a previous note, I discussed how drug firms were monitoring on-line patient communities to assess consumer opinions about their products as part of their marketing efforts (see: The Growing Influence of On-Line Patient Groups; Informed Patients as Micro-Experts; Web and Patient Education). I recently came across another article discussing how hedge fund employees were similarly monitoring social media web sites for clues to the future prospects for drug stocks sales (see: Hedge Funds Listen In on Patient Chats for Pharma Bets). Below is an excerpt from the article:
On the Internet, people talk about everything, even their illnesses. Now, Wall Street is listening. In the data age, a handful of companies are packaging conversations on Facebook, Twitter and online patient forums to sell to drugmakers, insurers and hospitals eager to understand how people manage their health in the real world. One of them has started putting its data-excavating skills to use beyond the health-care industry and selling it to financial companies looking to gain an investment edge. Treato...sends fund managers weekly or monthly reports with analysis of online chatter that may yield early signals about a drug’s side effects or prescription patterns....While others such as Saama Technologies Inc. and Signals Intelligence Group ply their trade of “social listening” to the health-care industry, closely held Treato is one of the few also putting its algorithms to work for the investment community....
Ofir Levi, head of life science research at the Israeli hedge fund Adamas Healthcare, says he’s used Treato’s data to support an investment idea. Levi turned to Treato to find out whether prostate cancer patients might be prescribed a drug called Xtandi before they had received chemotherapy. The medicine...is only approved in the U.S. for patients who have already had chemotherapy. Levi suspected physicians might be prescribing Xtandi off-label.
Nothing beats the social media like Twitter and Facebook to determine what people are saying about any particular product. Specialized web sites such as PatientsLikeMe and Treato are a treasure trove of information about diseases and what drugs they are taking. The example at the end of the excerpt above about the off-label use of the drug Xtandi was a perfect example of such information. It's an androgen receptor blocker for patients who have already received chemo. If it was also being frequently prescribed off-label, the sales of the drug would be larger. I suspect that patients signing on to Treato would have no idea that they were taking the drug off-label so would not be disinclined to discuss their case anonymously in this way. The Treato web site described its volume of patient data with these figures: 229,692,524 patients, 1,830,227,215 posts, 26,524 medications, and 14,142 conditions. These numbers are impressive. Look for more news in the future about "social listening" and drug marketing.