Just because a pharma company gets kudos for engaging with and supporting patients via Social Media does not mean the company always has patients’ interests at heart and will put patent safety above profits.

Sometimes, Sales and Marketing (S&M) Trumps Social Media (SM).

Case in point is Boehringer Ingelheim (BI), a social media savvy company that has been accused of hiding safety data from the public in order to protect the sales of their blood thinner, Pradaxa (see “Who was Looking Out for Patients at Boehringer Ingelhein?“).

Recall that BI ranks #6 in IMS Health’s Social Media Engagement Index (see here) and that I gave it kudos for its use of Twitter to support patients (see “Boehringer Ingelheim Shows How to Support Patients via Twitter and Beyond“). I also praised BI for garnering over 50,000 Facebook “Likes” (see “Pharma and Social Media – Comfy Bedfellows: Boehringer, AstraZeneca, & Janssen Get It On!“).

But new documents recently released by a federal judge in Illinois suggest that BI may be more concerned about protecting Pradaxa’s competitive advantage than protecting patient safety regardless of how BI portrays itself via social media.

Here’s the story as reported by the New York Times (“New Emails in Pradaxa Case Show Concern Over Profit“):

Many of the documents released last week and Thursday centered on the question of what the company’s response should be to internal research showing that some patients could benefit from closer monitoring of their blood. If too little of the drug is absorbed, patients could be at increased risk of stroke. But if too much of it was in the blood, they could be at risk for bleeding.

Testing is a critical issue because Pradaxa and two other recently approved drugs, Xarelto and Eliquis, are in a race to gain market share from warfarin, a generic drug that for decades has been the standard treatment for preventing blood clots and strokes. Many patients viewed the older warfarin as a nuisance because it required frequent blood tests and careful attention to diet and other drugs.

The new drugs do not require such monitoring, yet claim to be as good, or better, at preventing strokes and blood clots in patients with a heart-rhythm disorder known as atrial fibrillation.

The documents released on Thursday contain several emails from employees at Boehringer Ingelheim expressing concern over the sales impact of testing patients who are using Pradaxa.

In one email, from June 2012, an employee wonders about the implications of internal research showing that blood levels of Pradaxa could vary significantly in a single patient.

“This may not be a onetime test and could result in a more complex message (regular monitoring), and a weaker value proposition … vs. competitors,” wrote the employee, whose name was redacted in accordance with privacy laws in Germany, where the company is based.

…another employee, in the same email chain, casts doubt on whether measuring a patient’s blood levels would help predict the likelihood of bleeding, saying that some people with high levels of the drug in their blood would not experience a problem.

“It’s like driving a car,” the employee wrote. “220km/h does not mean that one would for sure have an accident.”

Rich Meyer of World of DTC Marketing (op. cit.), said “it would seem the one voice that should have been heard above all others was the person who asked ‘what’s best for our patients?’.” Unfortunately, that voice was not heard in the emails nor on the @Boehringer Twitter account.

P.S. I notice that @Boehringer has changed its avatar, from the iconic “child in a fish bowl” (used in the image above) to the BI logo, which has much less human appeal. I guess BI has grown up and put marketing/legal in charge of its Twitter account,