Biotech, pharma warming up to Facebook

With more than 1 billion users plugged in, Facebook has huge potential to have a real impact on science and public health, beyond just a marketing platform for biotech and pharma companies.

"Facebook has this massive and powerful platform [that] can be deployed for health care," Dr. Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute, says to Wired.

Already, scientists are figuring out how to use Facebook for research purposes, such as tracking how diseases spread among populations and across geographic areas. The Facebook app "PiggyDemic," rolled out by Tel Aviv University in 2011, tried to do just that--predict disease by showing people how germs are swapped by friends on social networking sites. Wired reports that there have been about 400 academic papers published in the last four years that mention the social network. Although small, it seems like that number continues to grow.

Big Pharma is slowly catching on to using social media to engage consumers, instead of just marketing products to them. Last fall, Roche ($RHHBY) held a summit called Share+ in the U.K. with patient groups and other stakeholders to discuss social media and its role in healthcare communications. And Boehringer Ingelheim has rolled out a Facebook pharma game called "Syrum," designed to help educate the general public about the challenges of its business.

As users get comfortable with sharing more and more information online, social media will likely continue to shape the landscape of health and science, and Topol speculates in his book about the possibility of even sharing things like genetic data on Facebook.

- read the Wired story