Less than three weeks after a Facebook page was set up by one patient angry with KV Pharmaceuticals’ pricing of its newly approved drug Makena, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has today announced that KV should not have exclusive rights to produce similar products. This apparent about-turn resulted in the pharmaceutical company’s share price plummeting, placing it at the top of the NYSE Biggest Percentage Decliners list with a more than 20% drop in share value.
Prior to today’s FDA announcement, KV Pharmaceuticals had been granted seven years of exclusivity under the Orphan Drug Act and received what the FDA describes as ‘considerable assistance from the federal government in connection with the development of Makena’.
After the product was approved on March 10, KV Pharmaceuticals sent letters to pharmacists, many of whom had previously been able to compound their own versions of the drug, warning them that they faced potential FDA enforcement and should stop compounding the drug themselves.
However, the FDA’s announcement today makes it clear that this is not correct but rather that “the FDA does not intend to take enforcement action against pharmacies that compound [the active ingredient] based on a valid prescription.”
On 17 March, one week after the FDA’s approval of Makena, Creation Healthcare reported the launch of a Facebook page by pregnant mothers in the USA angry about KV Pharmaceuticals’ pricing of its newly FDA-approved synthetic progesterone product, and raised once again the urgent need for pharmaceutical companies to plan ahead for social media engagement.
At the time, the Facebook page had already reached over 550 fans. By today, 30 March, that number was over 1,400. It is not merely the number of fans that is notable, however, but their level of engagement. The page’s wall is rich with comments and links to external resources. And the Page’s ‘Photos’ area has become a powerful visual gallery of children and newborn babies.
I asked Christine O’Connell, the Facebook page’s founder, today about the role of Facebook in the campaign to rally support. She told me that it provided the best platform to reach many people quickly and share ideas:
“I started this page quite simply because I was outraged. I knew if other people knew about this unconscionable price increase, they’d be outraged too. Facebook gave me the best platform to reach a lot of people in a short time.
“My hope was that we’d stir up enough public anger to somehow force KV Pharm to right this wrong. I wasn’t sure how the page could achieve that, but I believed that if we put our heads together, we’d figure something out.
“And that’s exactly what happened. Not only did affected moms and dads get involved, but doctors, news reporters and medical organizations joined the conversation. We shared information and ideas on everything from boycotts to contacting our Congressional representatives.
“I really think this was the power of social media to inform, educate and rally people at its best! I’m so pleased that common sense has prevailed.”
The response from members of the page’s ‘community’ of supporters is perhaps best summed up by this comment from one of them:
“I just want to say THANK YOU for starting this page. I joined when there were under 100 of us, and now look! Not only is it a voice for women and their future babies, but we have seen well respected doctors engage in this conversation a well as health organizations. It has proven to be a powerful tool.”
So whilst the FDA continues to ponder the pharmaceutical industry’s role in social media, perhaps this story will remind those working in pharma communications that failure to engage with patients online today is simply not a viable option.
Creation Healthcare provides expert advice to pharmaceutical and healthcare organizations about healthcare engagement in a changing landscape. For a confidential conversation about your preparedness for social media engagement, contact Daniel Ghinn on +44 (0)207 849 3167.