GSK finds 21M mentions of its drugs in trawl of social media

GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) has provided a glimpse at just how much information about the real-world use of drugs is online. In a trawl of Facebook ($FB) and Twitter ($TWTR), the Big Pharma found 21 million mentions of its products--and the data have already led to the recall of a GSK product.

The haul amounts to a massive new source of information about GSK's medicines. "To put that in perspective, there's more adverse events discussions online, in social media, in one year than there are in the FDA database since it started in 1968," Greg Powell, director of pharmacovigilance at GSK, said at a conference attended by MobiHealthNews. Facebook provided the majority of the data, with 15 million of the mentions being found on the site. The social media posts are noisy compared to traditional sources of health information, but are nonetheless proving useful to GSK.

Facebook posts have already led directly to the recall of a GSK over-the-counter product in Australia. To identify such useful posts amid the chatter, GSK works with Epidemico, a spinout of Boston Children's Hospital that was acquired by Booz Allen Hamilton last year. Epidemico helps GSK to filter out irrelevant posts, before de-identifying and standardizing the language of what remains. This process keeps GSK clear of FDA reporting requirements and leaves it with a trove of posts that use the same terms for products and medical conditions.

The value of what remains is derived from the richness of the posts. Instead of simply linking a drug to an adverse event or positive health outcome, social media posts provide context. Of the posts analyzed by GSK, 16% compared the side effect of a drug to its benefits, for example by saying "it gave me a rash but it was worth it because the headaches have stopped." A further 11% compared drugs to alternative treatments. Such large-scale deep dives into real-world outcomes were impossible before social media, a fact that explains the level of interest shown by companies and regulators in the approach. 

- read MobiHealthNews' article

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