Pfizer First of Many Pharma Partners for Doctors’ Community

Pharma giant Pfizer is the first of several drug makers that will partner with Web community Sermo to interact with the physicians who share insights on the site. Pfizer’s collaboration will come in the form of “HotSpots,” a branded feature to launch on Sermo next month. In part, the relationship is in response to growing disillusionment with the way drug companies have typically communicated with doctors for educational, research, and promotional purposes.

While much of the training and continued education physicians receive comes through relationships with drug and medical device firms, doctors don’t necessarily appreciate having information pushed to them, said Daniel Palestrant, MD, CEO of Sermo. “They want it on-demand,” he explained.

Despite resentment among doctors over some methods used by pharma companies to get their attention, members of the year-old Web community wondered why the industry wasn’t more involved. However, when he first approached pharma firms about interacting with Sermo users, Palestrant told ClickZ News he was “disappointed at how many of them wanted to do traditional advertising and branding in the medium.”

The new tab-like HotSpots feature is intended to satisfy the doctors’ desire to interact with the industry, and Sermo’s decision to prohibit ads. It will allow companies like Pfizer to present information on clinical trials, drugs, or devices to the more than 30,000 doctors in the Sermo community. The branded tabs can be targeted based on discussion subject matter, keywords, or anonymous demographic data gathered through site registrations. Sermo is still determining a pricing model for the feature.

To be part of the network, firms like Pfizer will also be subject to scrutiny. “The double-edged sword is the community can moderate [Pfizer’s content],” said Palestrant. Another important factor, he added, is the need to provide Pfizer competitors the opportunity to communicate with Sermo participants.

“It can’t be just a Pfizer environment,” said Palestrant. “It undermines the value of the medium if this is exclusively used by Pfizer…. It would be presenting to our community unbalanced views.”

What may be considered a marketing effort by other commercial brands doesn’t necessarily fit into that category in the highly-regulated medical world. Sermo, which also has recently partnered with the American Medical Association and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to enable collaboration with its members, does not consider Pfizer or its other unnamed drug company partners to be advertiser clients, said Palestrant.

Sermo also collects revenue from investment fund firms and government research outfits that pay for reports on knowledge and commentary generated by community members. Pfizer is Sermo’s first pharmaceutical client.

“We don’t see this as a marketing platform but rather as a platform for information exchange between medical doctors at Pfizer, key opinion leaders, and the Sermo community,” Pfizer Global Medical Senior Group Leader Stuart Sowder told ClickZ News. Pfizer doesn’t market on any other physician communities online, he added.

Additional deals with “several” other pharma clients are in place, said Palestrant, who expects those clients to launch HotSpots efforts in the first half of 2008. “Pfizer’s success depends on its ability to engage with physicians” said Sowder. “This includes understanding how physicians communicate and want to be communicated with, and harnessing changes in technology to facilitate productive interaction.”

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