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Pfizer merges with online doctors' forum

An online forum with a membership of 30,000 doctors partners with Pfizer, which some industry watchers say goes against the site's original ideology

An online forum with a membership of 30,000 doctors has partnered with Pfizer, which some industry watchers say goes against the site's original ideology.

Sermo's doctor forum started back in September 2006 and was meant to be an advertisement-free space for communication between doctors on subjects, such as side-effects, avoiding the influence of pharmaceutical companies and their sales activities.

In a tie-up with US-based hosting site Sermo, Pfizer will work with the forum and participating doctors to agree on terms which would allow Pfizer's hundreds of staff doctors to view postings and reply.

No rules have yet been formulated to guide Pfizer's activities on the forum. Sermo's CEO, Daniel Palestrant, a former surgery resident at a Boston hospital, said, however, that any postings made by Pfizer's medical staff must be clearly identified as a cleared Pfizer medical staff logging in securely from an office computer.

Sermo said that recent online polls and focus groups involving Sermo members indicated that they ìwanted industry participation in a controlled fashionî.

Advertisements would continue to be banned from the forum, stressed Palestrant.

"These doctors are saying: 'We want to have a different type of relationship with the industry.' Doctors in our focus groups would say: 'In many cases, the most timely and interesting information on drugs comes from the industry. But I want that information on my terms,'" explained Palestrant.

According to a Pfizer senior vice-president, Dr Michael Berelowitz, only the company's medical staff will have access to the forum.

Monitoring who's who
"There will be great care taken to ensure the information we provide is transparent and clear, and done with full disclosure," added Berelowitz.

Pfizer says that the collaboration with Sermo is a way to supplement communication with doctors which currently relies on medical journal articles and postings of clinical trial information on government registries.

The FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health entered a six-month agreement to monitor doctors' Sermo exchanges and eventually gauge whether to rely long-term on Sermo's postings to supplement existing government systems to track product safety.

The Pfizer link is Sermo's first with the pharmaceutical industry, but Palestrant said his company was in talks with other companies. Sermo's profits come from charging investment professionals, such as hedge fund managers, to view postings which could serve as tip-offs to market-moving medical trends.

Sermo had to upgrade its user authentication processes recently after medical bloggers posted stories in which they said they obtained medical license data and logged onto Sermo by impersonating doctors.

30th September 2008

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