Big pharma company Merck (NYSE:MRK) has formed a collaboration with an online patient community platform to measure the impact of psoriasis on patients and develop ways to improve outcomes in a sign that pharmaceutical companies are seeing the value in these communities for drug development, according to a company statement.
Under the agreement,PatientsLikeMe will work directly with Merck’s clinical researchers and epidemiologists to analyze and interpret psoriasis patient-reported data.
Ben Heywood, PatientsLikeMe president and co-founder said:
“We’re excited to collaborate with patients and Merck to uncover insights about the disease that may lead to better approaches for patients managing their condition day to day; providers creating care plans; and researchers developing alternative treatments.”
With 2,000 members, PatientsLikeMe’s psoriasis patient community shares data and personal experiences of the disease and how to treat it. Psoriasis is a chronic autoimmune disease that affects the skin and is estimated to affect about 7.5 million in the U.S. It can be caused by diabetes, depression and heart disease.
Although social media websites like Facebook and Twitter have provided a way for pharmaceutical companies to communicate directly with niche patient communities, the deal with PatientsLikeMe affords both groups the potential to have a more meaningful and intimate dialogue without the big pharma company overstepping its marketing boundaries set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Pharmaceutical companies have been using the web to facilitate clinical trials and more gradually in the development of apps, but crossing into the consumer health space is a more unusual if not unexpected move. Last month, Boehringer Ingelheim said it would collaborate with Healthrageous to help people with type 2 diabetes manage their illnesses themselves.
Merck’s move to work with PatientsLikeMe is unique and it will be interesting to see if the arrangement gives each group the best of both worlds — a chance for a niche patient community to get the ear of a pharmaceutical company and for Merck to use the information to take a more personalized approach to the patients they are serving, and make this approach more attractive to other drug developers.