Everyone I know in Pharma Twitterdom is enamored by the launch of Boehringer Ingelheim’s SYRUM FaceBook game, which is available ONLY to European FB users. BI says the game is “educational” for physicians and the public:

“The research driven pharmaceutical industry is immersed in education – whether aimed at medical or pharmaceutical professionals or providing information directly to the public,” says John Pugh, Director of Digital at Boehringer Ingelheim. “Gaming is an experimental way for Boehringer Ingelheim to do this. The challenge is to do this in a truly engaging, educational and entertaining way that immerses the player.”

Syrum allows players to create and run their own pharmaceutical company, using a virtual laboratory to discover and develop imaginary medicines to improve the health of the world.

But “educating” the public may be a minor goal of Syrum. It surely is not something that can be measured as a key performance indicator (KPI) to justify the years and money invested in developing this “game.”

So how does BI justify investing all this time and money to develop a game if it cannot measure how better educated the public is about drug development?

I believe that Syrum is designed to educate BI and NOT to educate us. It’s much easier for BI to measure how much better educated IT has become due to Syrum than to measure how much better I have become from playing the game.

What do I mean by BI being “educated” due to Syrum?

Firstly, BI requires everyone who plays the game to open up their FB information for access by the company.

I was able to access the game while in Spain recently. Before I could play the game, however, I had to agree to allow BI to gain access to practically everything I do on Facebook (see screen shot below).

This stopped me dead in my tracks. Perhaps this is a normal permission request for all FB apps, but I was loathe to “allow” this kind of access for a pharma company app. It seems that BI wants to do some market research about the people who opt in to play Syrum. This kind of data could be a valuable KPI for Syrum.

I must admit that I am mystified by FB. For example, what does “Post on my behalf” mean? Whatever it is, it doesn’t sound good. “Reading my checkins” also does not sit well with me. 

I’m not the only one who doesn’t use apps due to privacy concerns. More than half of mobile application users have uninstalled or avoided certain apps due to concerns about the way personal information is shared or collected by the app, according to a nationally representative telephone survey conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project (see “Privacy and Data Management on Mobile Devices“). What applies to mobile apps also applies to FB apps – maybe even more so given FB’s bad rep viz-a-viz privacy (see for example: “How Facebook Plans On Using Your Prescription Drug Purchase History, And How To Stop Them“).

Another way that Syrum can educate BI rather than educating us is by allowing BI to cash in on “crowdsourcing” WITHOUT financially compensating the crowd!

BI says it has steered clear of therapeutic areas it is involved with as potential areas of interest in the Syrum game, although it has left the door open to change that. Perhaps BI’s objective is to test the social aspects of the game and access the “wisdom of the crowd” to help it develop new drugs.

The pharma industry seems ready — even desperate — for help from the crowd to develop new drugs. Ten top U.S. and European drugmakers — including BI — started a nonprofit organization, called TransCelerate BioPharma, to collaborate on the problem of developing new drugs (see here).

Meanahile, Lilly’s Clinical Open Innovation believes that crowdsouring can help fix drug development, which it claims is “broken.” Lilly believes that “Open Innovation models – focused on clinical drug development – can result in transformational gains in value-to-patients and efficiency. We also believe that open data, linked, crowdsourced, consumed and curated by experts outside (as well as inside) the walls of pharma will bring innovative insights and wisdom. And that open communities will set and meet objectives to reduce costs and improve outcomes” (see “OMG, LCOI! Open Source Pharma: Creative Commons Coming To Pharma“).

Perhaps Syrum is a precursor to that kind of “collaboration” – what I call “semi-open access” drug research. This could be of tremendous educational as well as FINANCIAL benefit to BI. And all it costs is the price of developing a game with very little payback to the crowd other than “fun” and “engagement!”

P.S. On KPI I forget to mention was ROI on PR. BI recently retweeted this tweet from the PM Society: “RT @PMSociety: How is PR ROI for Syrum being measured? 50 pieces of press just from launch party. Value in positioning of @Boehringer”. 50 easy “pieces of press” — some kind of “POP”!