PatientsLikeMe reveals strategy change

Got an illness, any illness? Then PatientsLikeMe wants you. After five years of limiting its patient social network to people with certain chronic diseases, the Cambridge, MA-based company says today that it has changed course and opened its online community to people with all types of maladies.

Prior to opening the social network to all patients, the company limited participation to patients with 22 chronic conditions such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis and HIV. Now the social network can serve patients with diabetes, cancer and other illnesses that affect millions more patients and offer big market opportunities to the company.

PatientsLikeMe President Ben Heywood, who co-founded the company in late 2004 during his now-deceased brother Stephen's battle with ALS, discussed this strategy change with FierceBiotech IT. With its new all-patient strategy, the company aims to expand its social network of about 100,000 patients and broaden its market opportunities, according to Heywood. Another reason the company now feels ready to open the doors to its social network to all patients is because it has online tools to track key quality-of-life measurements, which are relevant to people with many different diseases.

"On the business side, over three quarters of the meetings we've had over the last couple of months were for disease areas we didn't have" represented in our social network, Heywood said. "And we felt that it was time to open this up and really expand it."

On firm's social network, patients get to establish profiles and use its online tools to track and measure their health for free. The firm generates revenue from clients such as life sciences companies (Swiss drug giant Novartis and Brussels-based biotech UCB, among others), which, at least in some instances, want access to data on specific diseases from PatientsLikeMe's online communities. Life sciences companies have also tapped PatientsLikeMe to recruit patients for clinical trials.

- here's the PatientsLikeMe release