May 222013


Social media can predict the success of a new drug launch much faster than traditional methods. Many pharmaceutical companies try to measure the success of their launch based on weekly script trends. The difference between social media data and data derived from prescriptions is significant: social media data can predict the future, while script data record the past.

Social media can also, to some degree, explain events and not just record them, since patient posts are much more nuanced than purchase data, often sharing the why and not just the what.

Using older methods, it can take years to understand the result and impact of a new drug launch. Today social media can provide early vital signals in real time.

To illustrate this, let’s look at Tecfidera (formerly called BG-12 during clinical trials), a new multiple sclerosis drug that Biogen launched on April 13.

As a quick reminder: Treato distills the patient voice from billions of patient-written social media posts on over 2,000 health blogs and forums. We filter out the patient experiences from the spam and other noise and analyze them using proprietary Natural Language Processing algorithms in our Big Data processing servers. The result is unique insights into drugs, conditions, and all that’s in between.

Interestingly, since the launch of Tecfidera in mid-April, the most talked about MS drug in social media has been Tecfidera, bypassing all other MS medications and growing on a daily basis. We also see significant differences between Tecfidera discussions and that of other MS medications in that 36% of the Tecfidera discussions are on Facebook while for other MS medications only 28% of the discussions are taking place on Facebook (our analysis does not include Twitter).

MS Patient Posts Graph

Tecfidera is the most discussed MS drug online since its April 2013 launch.

Since its launch, there have been over 600 patient posts about Tecfidera, approximately 30% of which indicated that the patient writing the post had been prescribed or started to use Tecfidera. If we compare this to commercially available prescription data, this number represents over 5% of all Tecfidera prescriptions during that time period. This impressive sample size in such a short time provides strong indication for the scalability and cost effectiveness of social media as a research platform.

Switching is a major topic of patient online discussion. Within the posts about Tecfidera, we found the following indications of interest in switching to the new drug from their current medication:

MS Patients Considering Switching to Tecfidera

MS Patients Considering Switching to Tecfidera

When dealing with health social media and big data analytics one needs to be very careful about drawing conclusions, so before we make any initial predictions based on this information, a few words of caution:

  • It is very early in the launch cycle, almost too early. It’s like trying to making a call on presidential elections 12 months before Election Day. So many things can happen to change the playing field.
  • Patients sharing their thoughts and wishes online are early adopters, and they may not represent the entire patient base. At the same time, they are shaping public opinion very early through their candid involvement. One post actually summarized the huge importance of social media: “I want to know everything I can, before I start!”

Our early prediction is that – assuming no significant side effects during the launch cycle – Tecfidera will gain significant market share, primarily taking it away from Tysabri, Copaxone, and Aubagio.

The growing price sensitivity among patients will be an important factor, and the current price may not be optimal (14% of the posts talk about price / insurance).

For the past four years, I have personally read thousands of posts, and this experience tells me that the information available today in the Tecfidera posts is simply vital to all stakeholders.

The data transparency inherent in social media means that all the stakeholders in the launch have equal access and can learn from it: patients, pharmaceutical companies, regulators, even the financial community.

I am extremely proud that Treato is the first Internet heath IT vendor that provides this information to both patients and professionals, as social media now plays a growing and critical role in such events as they develop.

This is only the beginning for Tecfidera, as few have started using it, but we expect the next six months to be critical for this new drug. We will be following Tecfidera in social media closely and will expand the next review to include patients’ reviews on effectiveness and side effects.


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Gideon Mantel is the Executive Chairman and co-founder of Treato, a new platform of patient intelligence based on online discussions about real life experiences. Since its start in 2011, over a billion patient discussions from forums and blogs have been analyzed using Treato's proprietary Natural Language Processing algorithms, generating the collective patient voice.

  2 Responses to “Predicting Success for Tecfidera through Social Media Analysis”

  1. Great article …. only problem is that pharmaceutical industry is afraid to look into Internet data and does not like to be aware of it.

    BTY, I will use some of your information for my presentation at Pharma Customer Experience Summit in Berlin, next week.

  2. Hello, I am trying to get the best information I can about the drug Tecfidera versus LDN. I am quite confused when I navigate the internet on my own and often run into propaganda that is not best serving me. I am most likely secondary progressive, so am looking for protocols outside the mainstream to better my condition. Any insight or help in the matter would be so greatly appreciated.

    Wonderful site (:

    Maia Marie

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