Pfizer (PFE) is hooking up with doctor social network Sermo. According to The Wall Street Journal: "Pfizer-affiliated doctors will be able to talk candidly with the site’s 31,000 members, potentially giving the company insights into prescribing patterns and a way to show doctors data on its drugs."
Pfizer has cut its sales force and its has a number of drugs that have come "off patent" or will in the next couple of years. The internet would seem to be a good place to market to doctors by talking with them about the company’s drugs.
But, it isn’t, and the move by Pfizer is naive, missing one of the critical dangers of the web for large companies. While the WSJ mentions that the FDA may not appreciate Pfizer communicating with doctors this way, that will be the least of the big pharma company’s problems.
The internet in general and social networks in particular give small numbers of people the power to mount effective campaigns against large institutions. It will only take a small number of doctors to attack a Pfizer drug on Sermo in a way that gets out a message to thousands of physicians. The same will probably hold true for drugs that are in late stage trials.
Pfizer underestimates how may physicians are suspicious of drug companies and how many hold big pharma in outright contempt. They may be about to find out, in spades.
Douglas A. McIntyre