On Monday Sermo, an online forum for about 30,000 physicians, will announce a partnership with drug maker Pfizer that runs against the forum's founding principle of allowing physician communication without input from the pharmaceutical industry, AP/BusinessWeek reports.
Only Pfizer's medical staff will have access to the Web site, and any postings by them must be clearly identified as coming from a Pfizer source logging onto the secure system, Daniel Palestrant, Sermo's CEO, said Sermo began in September 2006 as a forum for anonymous discussions between physicians on topics such as drug side effects, without advertisements. Recent online polls and focus groups found that Sermo members wanted the pharmaceutical industry to participate in discussions in a controlled environment and without advertisements.
Pfizer sees Sermo as a supplement to its existing communications with physicians through medical journal articles and postings of clinical trial data on government registries, AP/BusinessWeek reports (Jewell, AP/BusinessWeek, 10/14).
The partnership puts Pfizer in a challenging position because regulators and lawmakers scrutinize drug companies' interactions with physicians to see if the companies are offering doctors financial incentives or promoting their products for unapproved uses, the Wall Street Journal reports. Pfizer said it will discuss the partnership with FDA (Johnson, Wall Street Journal, 10/15).
Sermo said it is adding between 1,000 and 2,000 new physician members weekly. The Web site also recently upgraded its authentication requirements after medical bloggers said they posted stories that said they obtained physician medical license data and accessed Sermo by impersonating doctors, Palestrant said. He added that Sermo is in talks with other companies (AP/BusinessWeek, 10/14).
Richard Thrasher, a Texas ear, nose and throat specialist and Sermo member, said that he overall welcomes Pfizer but noted that "[o]ften it's looked badly upon by other physicians when you are perceived to have a close relationship with a drug company.""It takes a lot of courage for Pfizer to do this, because the response isn't going to be universally positive," Palestrant said. He added that the pharmaceutical industry is "always in crisis" and that "there have been trust issues with physicians" (Wall Street Journal, 10/15).