@SFBIZronleuty captures the essence of Union Square during #JPM15
@SFBIZronleuty captures the essence of Union Square during #JPM15

In 1982, a small group of investment bankers at Hambrecht & Quist launched an investor conference for companies in the biotechnology space. At the time, biotech was still seen as something just beyond alchemy: using genetically engineered bacteria to create a whole new spectrum of medications.

The conference has grown each year, surviving a series of corporate changes that have left the confab in the hands of J.P. Morgan Chase. Once the province of biotech executives and bankers, the early-January event now draws companies across the health care space, along with media, marketers, public officials, entrepreneurs and anyone else with a stake in the future of health.

That expansion means that, every year, we get requests on the best way to “do JPM,” which is like asking for the best way to “do Disney”: there’s no right way to conquer a meeting that has become this sprawling. But over the past few years, there have been thousands of words of guidance penned. Here are the best hints to maximizing the experience:

  • “Meet some new people, some old people, some random people doing cool stuff you know little about. Part of the magic of JP Morgan is the sheer density, and diversity, of people in one place doing so many interesting things.” – Luke Timmerman, #JPM14. The whole thing is worth a read, and I provided counter-commentary here.
  • Be on alert for some white lies (“You guys don’t seem like other VCs”) and relentless optimism (“Really, this isn’t a bubble…”). – Bruce Booth, #JPM14, #JPM15. Naturally, this year in biotech will be different. Really.  
  • “Expect to find eight to 15 events all competing for the same audiences simultaneously, all day, every day, Monday through Wednesday. Then expect to wrangle a last-minute invite to the 50 or so evening receptions every night.” – Chelli Miller, #JPM15. Pretty sure that’s tongue-in-cheek, but I may have met some folks on Tuesday morning who looked like they hit 50 parties the previous night. 
  • “You ‘win’ J.P. Morgan in June, not January. Swapping business cards for four days means nothing if there’s no followup until everyone arrives in San Francisco in early 2016.” – me, #JPM15.
  • “3 things you won’t see at JPM: Some really interesting [private] presenting companies … patients … frank discussions about R&D and ‘worker bees.’” – Ron Leuty, #JPM15. Check the link, which also notes, helpfully, how many steps it would take for meeting attendees to reach the “real” San Francisco: 351 steps to the nearest massage parlor, 240 steps to the scent of urine, 135 steps to the hot dog cart.

Please tweet your best hints. Naturally, use the conference hashtag: #JPM16. And see you at the Monday night tweetup!

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Kim Kardashian taught us all a tremendous amount about the perils of using social media for prescription drug promotion this week, but the real message seems to have been missed by most folks.

The media, who can’t resist an opportunity to write gimlet-eyed hot takes about the reigning queen of famous-for-being-famous, widely reported this week’s news that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration sent a warning letter to Duchesnay, the maker of the morning sickness drug Diclegis, after Kim Kardashian took to Instagram to extol its virtues.

The FDA warning was utterly unsurprising. While Duchesnay and Kardashian took some pains to include a link to safety information, the overall content is clearly a violation of the agency’s longstanding policies and recent guidance. (A link to safety information, once called the “one-click rule” and heralded as the best way to ensure that online promotion offers a fair balance between risks and benefits, has been utterly rejected by the FDA.)

These are not new issues to us. In fact, our expert teams handle social for pharmaceutical and healthcare companies daily. This was a rookie mistake by Duchesnay — or a blatant risky one. With priopriety analytics – including our exclusive MDigitalLife database of social activity by physicians – we drive global pharmaceutical and healthcare-related communications decisions across W2O, including WCG, Twist and BrewLife.

So while the FDA’s rules may be overly strict, they’re no longer that confusing. The Kardashian post, then, reflected some combination of ignorance, recklessness or calculated cunning that the risk of an FDA warning would be worth the flood of attention.

Except that there was never a flood of attention, at least, not the important kind.

It’s impossible to know if sales spiked, but we can look at whether Kim’s post prompted certain behaviors. The easiest behavior to look at is Wikipedia, where site visit stats are public, and where it’s been shown that searches are correlated to drug sales. There, the page for “pyridoxine/doxylamine” (the chemical name for Diclegis) was visited 99 times on the day that she posted her endorsement, rising as high as 148 later that week, as the media scrambled to report on it. (“Morning sickness” barely budged from its historical average.)

Google Trends shows much the same phenomenon: a small spike, but one that looks far less impressive when other pharmaceuticals are included as comparators.

So the net effect was that a post that went nearly 50 million people, many squarely in the young-mother demographic, and received upwards of a half-million likes, drove only a few hundred people to research more about the drug on Wikipedia. As a point of comparison, Angelina Jolie’s mastectomy pushed Wikipedia searches for “mastectomy” from 1,000 to 300,000 in a day: a 23,000 percent increase.

To be sure, it’s possible that enough people skipped Google and followed Kardashian’s web links and the impact was far greater, but the fact that so many eyeballs sent so few people to Dr. Google should raise red flags.

The lesson here is not that FDA rules should be followed (they should, and we can help) but that social media impact can’t be measured on likes alone (we can help with that, too). The Kardashian post was designed to catch the eye of people that mattered when it comes to pregnancy. It turns out that the heads that really turned were at the FDA.

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Something unusual happened in Congress in early July — an overwhelming bipartisan approval for a health care bill. But despite the 344-77 vote for the 21st Century Cures Act, the increasingly vocal opposition from oft-quoted critics of pharmaceutical, biotech and device companies should be taken as a warning sign for advocates who want to see this measure become law.

The bill is designed to boost drug discovery and help get patients with rare diseases additional access to treatments and cures, mostly through various reforms of the FDA approval process as well as additional funding for the National Institutes of Health.  (The Regulatory Affairs Professional Society has done a terrific explainer for those who want to dive into the deep details.)

More than 700 groups, from the Alzheimer’s Association to the American Society for Clinical Oncology, to patient-focused rare disease groups to companies and trade associations in the pharmaceutical, biotech and devices spaces, support the Cures bill. That support has shown up in traditional spaces such as Capitol Hill visits, as well as digital campaigns on Facebook and Twitter (#Path2Cures, #Cures2015.)

As it should be, the focus of these efforts has been on the benefits for patients with challenging diseases. Even rank-and-file House members have gotten into the act, such as in this short video from Rep. Reid Ribble (R-WI).

The critics emerge

Yet now with the bill headed to the Senate, that kind of organized support may be even more important. Media-friendly experts such as Rita Redberg, editor of JAMA Internal Medicine, and cardiologist Steve Nissen of the Cleveland Clinic, are being quoted in articles criticizing the Cures bill. The New York Times’s editorial board, often taking cues from the opposition groups, criticized the legislation last week, though it stopped short of saying the entire effort should be scrapped.

The challenge now for those who want to see the bill through the Senate – in addition to trying to avoid big arguments about petty differences as the process unfolds — is to continue to emphasize the real world impact the bill would make. Patients who could benefit from expanded access to “compassionate use” of drugs should be front and center. Groups who want to see “patient experience data” folded into regulatory decisions – because different patients may have different risk tolerances – should be talking more often. And, to reflect the widespread backing for increased research funding that is in the Cures bill (nearly $9 billion extra for the National Institutes of Health over the next five years), scientific experts should be explaining over and over the need for new discovery.

Where are the physicians?

A quick review of our MDigitalLife database—a validated list of U.S. doctors with digital footprints—suggests that physicians aren’t out in droves driving the conversation. That means some of the most trusted voices on the subject of medicine haven’t been heard from yet, and doctors could yet shape this debate. Communicators trying to line up new wrinkles for the continuing campaign to pass the Cures bill should consider engaging with physicians. As our colleague Greg Matthews has written, physicians are not only active on social media, they often influence news coverage.

Conversation about the Cures bill seems likely to spike again in mid-September, when a hearing or hearings could be held in Senate committees. We’ll continue to monitor and look for new and old voices influencing the debate as action develops over the fall. Senate leaders have signaled that they will write their own version of a Cures bill, which could extend the discussion about this legislation until early 2016.

Reporters covering the legislative process will likely focus on the lobbying effort and the political clout of the industries backing the bill. This makes the real world stories – and the use of paid, earned, shared and owned content online – even more important for a successful campaign in the months ahead. The next treatment or cure could be dependent on it.

By Gary Karr and Brian Reid

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Later this week, the American Society of Clinical Oncology Annual Meeting will kick off. Earlier in the month, research from W2O Group was published by ASCO, examining the use of social media by physicians. It’s an endeavor that will be extended later this week when we release our third Social Oncology Project report.

Our research found, unsurprisingly, that there is a lot of chatter by physicians about cancer on Twitter.

Nearly 140,000 tweets mentioned one of dozens of cancer-related keywords, and more than 5,000 physicians took part in this rolling, public dialogue. But we should be well past the point of being amazed that physicians are taking to social media; it’s a rare professional organization that doesn’t see Twitter use as a key tool to educate physicians and other doctors. For both practice management and public health, engagement on platforms such as Twitter can no longer be ignored.

But in looking deeper, we found that all voices are not equal in conversations about cancer. While those 5,000 doctors all tweeted at least once, there was an elite group of 19 who recorded more than 1,000 cancer-related tweets over the course of the year. That’s a milestone that is impressive, but almost baffling: these are, generally, in-demand oncologists with demanding day jobs. Where are they finding the time to dash off dozens of tweets a week?

So we asked. And here are the answers.

website_photo[1]DR. DEANNA ATTAI, Assistant clinical professor of surgery at UCLA, president of American Society of Breast Surgeons:

We know there are huge knowledge gaps and we feel it’s our duty of sorts to try to close that. I think also for me–and this accounts for the volume–is that my audience is both patients/public and docs, where many docs don’t interact much with the patient communities. It’s a real challenge as I do have my true day job (patient care) as well as my new job (ASBrS president) but I just think it serves too great a need (perhaps an inflated sense of worth?) to just let it go. There is satisfaction is seeing patients have their questions answered, become empowered, and then get to witness them mentoring and educating others. And the the satisfaction for MD engagement is seeing docs transition from being social media skeptics to the “ah ha” moment when they recognize the value.

ago1KktK[1]DR. MICHAEL FISCH, Medical director of medical oncology for AIM Specialty Health:

I find that I am able to use twitter as a way to find useful information that cuts across broad topics in oncology. For example, given my interest in cross-cutting oncology topics, how else might I expect to keep up on this array of information? Twitter allows me to harness my colleagues to guide me, through their mentions and retweets, to high-value articles and influential pieces in the lay press. Of course, there is some initial “activation energy” that it takes to learn any new thing (like a new kind of smartphone), but once you have the basics figured out, things get very efficient.

7c2b2cf6756ab7535e0184962d9f6bea[1]DR. JACK WEST, Medical oncologist and founder/president of cancer education nonprofit GRACE:

The main motivation sharing information is that this is the information that I appreciate getting from other people. I have learned a lot from tweets I’ve come across, I want to share the things that I think are of value to other people. There have been many practical benefits as well, such as developing relationships with various thought leaders in oncology through twitter, finding at least one of the board members for GRACE (Sally Church) via Twitter, and even ultimately being selected as web editor for JAMA Oncology largely because of my online presence. But at the end of the day, the primary motivation is just to share information that you would want to receive yourself. We want to be valuable contributors to our community, in this case an online cancer community.

To track what Drs. Attai, Fisch, West (and thousands of other oncologists) will be discussing on Twitter during #ASCO15, please subscribe to W2O Group’s “Complete Response” newsletter, delivered every morning of the conference. Complete Response will curate and package the tweets and links most-shared by the most important group of ASCO attendees: oncologists. 

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The J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference kicks off on Monday. It’s the one that everyone in biotech has circled on their calendar a year in advance. It’s not because there is a frenzy of news; journalists operate under the assumption–usually correct– the week ahead of the conference is for news, while the conference is for speculation, drinking and networking.Brians Post

But amidst the smog of gossip, there are a few absolute truths:

1. Whatever is Hottest is Almost Certainly Overhyped. Each year, there is a technology or therapeutic area that ends up being on the tip of everyone’s tongue. Last year it was nonalcoholic steatohepatitis. Past years have seen hyperventilating over RNA interference or Obamacare. Some of these stories pan out. Some don’t. But the level of volume at J.P. Morgan is a lousy crystal ball.

2. Those With the Most Interesting Perspectives Don’t Make Drugs. J.P. Morgan is about looking into the future (“the outlook for 2015” will appear about a hundred thousand times in stories and analyst notes around the conference), but the folks who has the most invested in accurately describing the future of medicine tend to be the ones delivering the care, not the ones delivering the drugs. The not-for-profit track, filled with hospitals and health systems, often paints a far more fascinating picture of the future than biopharma does.

3. Breakouts > Presentations. There is something special about seeing questions asked face-to-face, with no script. That’s what happens in the cramped breakout rooms. So the folks who really want to go deep slide out of presentations 10 minutes early and grab prime seating in the breakout room.

4. Parties Are Irrelevant. People Are Not. J.P. Morgan novices tend to get worried about getting into the “right” parties; an informal look puts the shindig count somewhere in the 70s. But there are no “right” parties (unless you have an independent interest in, say, circus performers or Scotch being served by gentlemen in kilts), only “right” people to see. If you know who those people are, you’ll be fine. If you don’t, no amount of party-hopping will help.

5. You “Win” J.P. Morgan in June, Not January. Most people judge their J.P. Morgan performance by the number of meetings they hold, and most attendees would be happy to share the precise number of one-on-ones they’ve booked. But swapping business cards for four days means nothing if there’s no followup until everyone arrives in San Francisco in early 2016. The players who use meetings as a springboard to a phone call in February, a lunch in March and deal in June are the ones who maximize their time. Quality, not quantity, people.

Look forward to seeing you all there.

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Tweet from JPM

We’ve captured Twitter highlights from the first day of the 31st J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference, held here in San Francisco. Check them out!







Number of tweets:
There have been more than 1,600 tweets using #jpm14 before noon on the first day of the conference.

Most prolific tweeters so far:
1) Rob Wright, Chief Editor, Life Science Leader magazine (@RfwrightLSL), 77 tweets
2) Adam Feuerstein, The Street (@adamfeuerstein), 62 tweets. He also has the most mentioned handle with nearly 150 people mentioning it in their tweets.

twitter@ mentions:

Most are primarily journalists with J&J Innovation being the only company (26 mentions) in the top 10.

Top cashtags:
Celgene made a big splash with their presentation this morning, inspiring 110 tweets with their cashtag $CELG
Alynylam (66 tweets), Sanofi (37 tweets), Seattle Genetics (29 tweets and Merk (24 tweets) round out the rest of the Top 5 most mentioned cashtags

Most retweeted tweets:
Roche   Big news: Dr. Sandra Horning named our new CMO. Here’s her story  #JPM14
Adam Feuerstein   My #JPM14 live blog is up —>  Tweets and updates thru-out the day. Please visit regularly.
 Luke Timmerman   What Biotech Pros Will Be Chirping About at JP Morgan This Week  #JPM14

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14 Posts to Take You Into 2014

A year ago my colleague Aaron Strout did a nice wrap up of the most interesting/appealing posts of 2012 on this blog. As Aaron noted, reviewing which posts resonated over a period of time can be informative to better understanding the interests of customers/employees/followers. By collecting the top performers in one place, I’m hoping to provide you with some relevant content you may have missed during the year. Like last year, you’ll notice some themes here – rankings, how-to’s, and analytics-based posts, in particular, continue to resonate.

In 2013 we’ve seen a marked increase in the frequency and number of colleagues contributing to this blog, which is great. And, with 50+ posts having over 2,000 views each, we had to be more restrictive with this wrap up than in the past. As a result (and with a goal of keeping it to less than 15), this year’s list is ranked based on the number of post views – with a minimum of 3,600 views required to make the cut. Of course, there are a ton of other great posts and I encourage you to go back and read these from Bob Pearson, Jenn Gottlieb and Jim Weiss. (Selfish plug, you might also want to read my post-ASCO blog post.)

This year’s list brings us some familiar faces – like Chuck Hemann and Brian Reid as well as some new comers to Common Sense such as Michael Brito and Michael Westgate.

So here it goes – our top posts from 2013 to take you into the New Year:

And the number 1 post of the year – with over 35,000 views…

#SXSWPickUpLines by Aaron Strout (35,847 views!)

I hope you’ve found this list helpful and that you’re looking forward to more engaging content in 2014!  What do you think? Are there topics you’d like us to cover? Interviews you’d like to see?  If so, please let us know in the comments below.

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“It’s not about ‘best practices’ – it’s about ‘next practices’ as learned my new colleague Annalise Coady and I, when we excitedly touched down at the W2O Media and Engagement Summit in Austin.

We knew we worked with some forward-thinking people, but the depth and breadth of experience (along with general awesomeness) blew us away. Here’s a quick and dirty summary of some of the things we learned and plan to pioneer across the pond:

  • Media has evolved and PESO is the future: Day 1 kicked off with Head of Earned Media, Jim Larkin, demonstrating how media has evolved from the 1960’s, and how we as communicators have had to continuously adapt in order to connect with our audiences in new ways. Jim introduced the PESO (paid, earned, shared, owned) model – the integrated future of media engagement for W2O.
  • Relationship is king – know your influencers and tailor your pitch to suit: Ex-reporters Ryan Flinn and Brian Reid, along with Earned Media Director Peter Duckler and blogger aficionado Carla Clunis, shared their insights into ‘What Modern Media Want’. The clear message being we must become part of the community we want to influence and ensure we’re always approaching media with meaningful and relevant content.
  • Bring in the experts, right from the start: When you see an opportunity for our client to integrate, deploy our experts across digital, social, creative and media fields.
  • Jump in the pool: Your career at W2O doesn’t have to be linear. Do great client work and pollinate across the company, teaching account teams to do what you do.
  • W2O’s new search capabilities are awesome: Creating content that’s not findable in search is almost meaningless. W2O Search, championed by Greg Reilly and Sri Nagubandi, enables us to ensure we’re always producing content that meets the needs of our audiences – and most importantly, can be found!
  • Influence can be created – passion can’t: 92% of word of mouth still happens OFFLINE. We have the capabilities to execute outstanding WOM campaigns allowing us not only  to keep track of what people are saying about brands online and offline, but also enabling us to insert ourselves into the conversation through the engagement of ambassadors to spread goodwill.
  • Our clients are looking for first class ideas, strategy and execution: As part of a panel discussion, ex-clients Jim Larkin and Lionel Menchaca shared what they look for in an agency:
    • Passionate and committed to the cause as they are
    • Know the ball park they’re playing in
    • Competitive zeal
    • Always offer strategy and counsel where possible
    • Constantly align agency work with client business objectives
  • W2O knows more about what physicians are doing socially than anyone else in the world: Sounds like a heavy claim, but our MDigital Life database has made it so – just ask Greg Matthews!

As a company at the forefront of innovation, we must continue to push the boundaries of conventional approaches; experiment and practice truly integrated planning for our clients, or as they say in Texas; “Always drink upstream from the herd!”

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About two weeks ago we launched The Social Oncology Project.  As that project (and subsequent report) came to life, our focus was on uncovering insights by analyzing the numbers.

While we found the data interesting, we wanted to go a step further and include expert opinions because we think the stories of how social media gets used are a critical component to understanding where these tools are headed.  With that in mind, we headed to Chicago to speak with physicians, advocates and industry representatives about their use of social media.  Here’s a look at some of the things we learned:


  1. While some are more timid than others when it comes to social media, physicians are not afraid to get online.  Many recognize that it is a powerful tool for monitoring/tracking conversations and, in fact, a certain percentage is actively engaged in their field of expertise AND outside their field of expertise.
  2. One of the biggest barriers to physician use of social media appears to be time constraints/ competing priorities in their daily routine.
  3. If you’re interested in ASCO, there are definitely some ‘must follow’ people on twitter – and @MaverickNY and @adamfeuerstein  came up more than a few times.
  4. Social media is playing a significant – and still growing – role in patient education.  We heard about patient resources, educational videos, and group forums being shared online by The PAN Foundation,  Johns Hopkins , and Malecare, respectively.
  5. When it comes to social media, the pharmaceutical industry has made great strides over the last several years.  However, the lack of industry guidelines cannot continue to be an excuse from engaging with patients through channels they are active on.
  6. In the future, the use of social media within healthcare will become the norm. As platforms such as twitter become second nature, they won’t be considered time consuming and some believe social media will make its way into medical school curriculum.

For more information about ASCO 2013, check out these posts by colleague Brian Reid and friend Geoff Curtis.

You can view the full Social Oncology report, interviews and media coverage here:

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