This morning I received a press invitation from Boehringer Ingelheim for the beta launch of its Facebook game, Syrum. The game is the first of its kind to be developed by a pharmaceutical company. Syrum’s website is already up for people to view but the game won’t be officially launched until September.
This isn’t the first game I’ve seen related to the pharmaceutical industry. A few years ago, a vendor of laboratory products released a game as part of a marketing campaign for its new products. The aim of the game was to clear out a laboratory to make room for the new system. I remember myself and other members of the office vigorously competing, but did the game achieve anything? Perhaps not, since none of us can remember the name.
Syrum aims to be more than a marketing tool. The game hopes to educate people about clinical research and the complexities involved in creating a new medicine. It’s an interesting idea given that the many people outside of the pharmaceutical industry have little knowledge about how medicines are created. As well being a bit of fun for those working in the pharmaceutical industry, the game also has the potential to encourage young people to consider a career in pharmaceutical R&D. Gameplay is to be similar to the popular Facebook game Farmville, where players simulate running a farm. In Syrum, the player will be running a pharmaceutical company and will need to develop drugs and conduct clinical trials. It will also be possible for players to link up with their Facebook friends
Embracing social media
The pharmaceutical industry has been slow to embrace social media, mainly because of concerns of how such activity will be regulated. Now, it seems as if the industry is finally getting to grips with social media. The majority of large pharmaceutical companies operate Twitter feeds, Facebook pages and YouTube channels. For the most part, companies tend to use social media to distribute press announcements or videos. GlaxoSmithKline, for example, has been using its Facebook page to heavily promote its involvement in the Olympic and Paralympic Games. There are also other innovative ways that companies are making use of Facebook and other social media outlets.
Pfizer’s Facebook page (which currently has almost 60,000 ‘likes’) shares videos, noncorporate news about employees (such as charity work) and also some very interesting historical images from the company, such as a picture of a lab technician overseeing penicillin production in 1977. Suffice to say, the standards are a little different to penicillin production nowadays!
Pfizer has also experimented with using social media to recruit participants in clinical trials for an overactive bladder drug. However, the initiative was discontinued earlier this year as the company found it difficult to recruit the required numbers. However, this doesn’t necessarily mark the end of patient recruitment via social media. Pfizer has said it will assess the pilot and look to conduct an updated one in the future.
Meanwhile, Roche and AstraZeneca use Facebook for recruitment purposes, and Sanofi is using its Facebook and YouTube channels to promote awareness of diabetes. Indeed, raising health and disease awareness is a common aim of many social media platforms run by pharmaceutical companies. Boehringer Ingelheim also uses its Facebook page to raise awareness of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Recently, the company ran a photo competition where it invited submissions of images that reflected the positive fight against COPD.
Pharmaceutical companies have traditionally seemed like ‘closed entities’ to patients, particularly in Europe where the ban on direct-to-consumer advertising can hinder awareness of treatments and even brand awareness. Social media provides the opportunity for patients to interact with companies and, hopefully, will go some way towards alleviating the negative cogitations that many have towards the industry.
The launch of Syrum is a new step forward for a company to interact with people outside of the pharmaceutical industry. I’m not one for Facebook games, but I’ll be curious to see what Syrum is like. What about the rest of you?