Drug Companies Look to Web to Reduce Costs
Hoping to offset the exorbitant cost of researching and developing new drugs, pharmaceutical companies are turning to the Internet to find patients for clinical trials and to market new drugs to physicians, Investor's Business Daily reports. According to the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the average cost of developing a new drug is $500 million, yet only 30% of drugs "brought to market recoup their research costs." The difficulty of finding patients for clinical trials increases these expenses, as it can take up to nine months to find the "right patients" for a study. Hoping to protect research funding, and trying to help patients who wish to take part in some of the hundreds of clinical trials, several Web sites that seek to match trials and subjects have emerged. Massachusetts-based Veritas Medicine, for example, helps doctors and patients "find what drug trials treat a specific ailment." It also puts potential subjects in touch with researchers running clinical trials. Veritas competitor CenterWatch Inc., as well as the NIH (ClinicalTrials.gov) run similar sites. Pharmaceutical companies say that they hope these sites will be able to facilitate a more rapid match of clinical trials and human subjects, thereby reducing costs.
Another area proving increasingly expensive to drug companies is the marketing and sale of approved drugs. Because the increasing number of sales agents makes it difficult for firms to get physicians' attention, several companies have introduced "virtual visits online," where doctors can get information on drugs directly from the manufacturer. The recently launched MyDrugRep.com Inc. provides information from drugmakers about specific pharmaceuticals and allows physicians to make appointments with sales agents and order free samples. CEO Quang Pham says European and Canadian companies, as well as smaller U.S. companies, have expressed interest in the site, but most large U.S. drugmakers "are moving slowly." He said, "They're not risk takers. They want to do pilot programs." Other companies offering similar services include
AllScripts Inc., WebMD Corp. (in partnership with
Quintiles Transnational Corp.) and Ventiv Health Inc. (in partnership with Rxcentric.com Inc.). While drug companies "remain cautious" about virtual marketing, a recent study found that 90% of doctors surveyed were interested in online visits with drug companies, and 50% preferred virtual meetings to traditional ones. "Drug reps will never go away. What we're doing is offering doctors an opportunity to get information at one site when he or she is ready to," Pham said (Howell, Investor's Business Daily, 11/8).