Merck to draw on social network for psoriasis patients

Merck ($MRK) has inked a deal with PatientsLikeMe, a provider of online patient communities, to gain insights into challenges of living with psoriasis. And the U.S. drug giant plans to apply the knowledge for clinical research and understanding of the autoimmune disease from a patient point of view.

Cambridge, MA-based PatientsLikeMe has worked with most of the top-20 pharma companies on various projects, yet the agreement with Merck is the oufit's first deal with a drugmaker focused on its psoriasis community, Ben Heywood, the company's president and co-founder, told FierceBiotechIT. The company has nearly 2,000 members of its psoriasis community, where patients can document their experiences with the skin condition through their online profiles, forum postings and answering surveys.

Merck's clinical researchers and epidemiologists are expected to work with PatientsLikeMe to "analyze and interpret psoriasis patient-reported data," according to the latter company's release. PatientsLikeMe didn't disclose the specific data that would be shared with Merck, but Heywood noted that his firm de-identifies patient information supplied to its partners and follows HIPAA privacy laws as a standard practice.

"I'm excited that we're working deeply with Merck's clinical researchers and epidemiaologists to understand psoriasis patients and understand the data we have and how it can impact the development of better products and services at Merck," Heywood said in an interview. "I think that's a relationship that is highly aligned with our mission and our psoriasis patient community."

Social networking offers a window into the lives of patients, and drugmakers have tapped emerging digital technologies to understand target markets. Psoriasis, a chronic skin disease, afflicts about 7.5 million Americans, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation. Heywood says that the online insights of those patients can help researchers understand what is important to people with the disease as they develop treatments.

"Effective use of health information provides the path forward to patient-centered care and personalized medicine," Dr. Sachin Jain, Merck's chief of medical information and innovation, said in PatientsLikeMe's release.

In 2011 Merck said that it expected to begin Phase III clinical trials this year for MK-3222, an anti-interleukin-23 monoclonal antibody drug.

- here's the release

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