An increasing number of pharmaceutical firms are turning to social media tools, such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and MySpace, to market their products, the Washington Post reports.
Last year, Merck -- one of the pharmaceutical industry's early adopters of social media tools -- launched a Facebook page to promote Gardasil, its human papillomavirus vaccine. Meanwhile, GlaxoSmithKline posted a humorous YouTube video designed to raise awareness of restless leg syndrome.
In addition, Bayer Aspirin recently launched a Facebook page targeted at women. The page includes an interactive quiz to gauge women's risk of heart disease and an online community to discuss risk and treatment.
Some industries, including entertainment, technology and beverages, have used social media to market their products for years, the Post reports.
However, Peter Pitts -- a former FDA associate commissioner who now heads the health care practice in the New York office of public relations firm Porter Novelli -- said that "drug companies, wary of the Food and Drug Administration, which has yet to set rules for marketing drugs via the Internet, and concerned that some consumers might post negative comments or videos, have been timid."
Mark Bard, president of technology market research firm Manhattan Research, said, "As online users of all ages spend more time engaged in social media, drug companies appear to be following." He added, "The reality is that pharmaceutical companies are struggling to keep up with the media preferences of today's health care consumer."
FDA spokesperson Karen Riley said, "If drug companies and others working on behalf of drug companies wish to promote (their products) using social media tools, FDA would evaluate the resulting messages as to whether they comply with the applicable laws and regulations."
She added, "Our laws and regulations don't restrict the channels that prescription drug companies choose to use for disseminating product promotional messages" (Lunzer Kritz, Washington Post, 6/16).