Last year the campaign for Chimerix ($CMRX) to give an experimental cancer drug to a 7-year-old gave biopharma firms another reason to be wary of the power of social media. Having seen Chimerix be engulfed by the social media maelstrom, the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) is working to equip small biotechs with the skills they will need if they find themselves in a similar situation.
BIO CEO James Greenwood told Bloomberg the outcry against Chimerix spooked other biotechs. Then Chimerix CEO Kenneth Moch--who stepped down shortly after the storm passed--received death threats deemed credible enough by the FBI to warrant him and his wife leaving home for a few days. With a staff of 54 people, Chimerix was ill-equipped to cope when a Facebook ($FB) page campaigning for it to administer its experimental drug to the 7-year-old clocked up 27,000 "likes" in one week.
The relatively complex argument against administering the drug stood little chance on social media, anyway. "I think that whenever you have 140 characters to describe a complicated medical decision, it's going to be oversimplified--'there's a dying child, why won't the drug company give the drug?'," Darshak Sanghavi, an associate professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, told Bloomberg. "It's so easily amplified, and any nuance, even if it was present early on, rapidly gets rubbed out."
Chimerix ultimately set up a pilot study so the child could receive the treatment and the gaze of social media moved on, but BIO wants to ensure that other small biotechs have a plan should history repeat itself. "People were hurt to see what happened to [Moch], and they worried that this could be me," Greenwood said.
- read the Bloomberg feature
Editor's Corner: The FDA vs. the flash mob: Hard questions as parents demand unproven drugs