Rx Drug Advertising May Soon Come to Twitter

You’ve seen them in magazines, on television and on Internet websites. And pharmaceutical companies might soon be able to promote medications on a new medium: Twitter.

The FDA says it is investigating whether to allow drugs ads on social media platforms such as Twitter. If you’re wondering why the drug industry hasn’t tried ads on social media before, it’s because under FDA regulations, drugmakers need to provide benefit and risk information in a balanced fashion. And that’s nearly impossible to do with a 140-character limit on places like Twitter.

The FDA has being weighing this kind of social media advertising since at least June 2014 when it issued guidance on how to present risk and benefit informationfor industry in a document titled “Internet/Social Media Platforms with Character Space Limitations.” The guidance also covers online paid search, which are sponsored links on search engines such as Google.

In the guidance at least, the FDA appears a bit hesitant to allow Twitter-esque advertising.

“For some products, particularly those with complex indications or extensive serious risks, character space limitations imposed by platform providers may not enable meaningful presentation of both benefit and risk…If an accurate and balanced presentation of both risks and benefits of a specific product is not possible within the constraints of the platform, then the firm should reconsider using that platform for the intended promotional message.”

However, in a notice posted on Nov. 7, the FDA now appears to be looking at ways to make Twitter advertising a reality. The agency is examining whether providing a link in a Twitter post that would open up into a new webpage with risk information can still provide a balanced view of benefits and risks.

To do this, the FDA is going to conduct a series of studies involving test subjects to see how well they comprehend and can recall risk information presented on fictitious drugs based on whether the risk information is in the ad or is contained in a link contained in the ad.

The FDA hypothesizes that those subjects who see substantive risk information in the communication itself rather than having to click on the link will have better recall and understanding of a drug’s risks.

Jonathan Block

Jonathan Block is a freelance writer and former MedShadow content editor. He has been an editor and writer for multiple pharmaceutical, health and medical publications, including BioCentury, The Pink Sheet, Modern Healthcare, Health Plan Week and Psychiatry Advisor. He holds a BA from Tufts University and is earning an MPH with a focus on health policy from the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health & Health Policy.

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