GSK backs controversial flu tracker in Theraflu launch deal with Weather Channel

GlaxoSmithKline is showing people how many in their geographic area are suffering from colds or flu--and what to do if they’re among the afflicted. But some critics find the pharma giant’s approach a little unsettling.

GSK’s consumer health unit, which makes the OTC treatment Theraflu, is sponsoring the new Cold and Flu Tracker that appears on The Weather Company’s weather.com site and The Weather Channel app.  With the tool, users can find out in real time when virus activity is rising in their areas--and take whatever action they see fit to protect themselves, Weather Company owner IBM recently told eWeek.

Glaxo, for one, is hoping includes picking up some Theraflu in case symptoms hit. The company’s OTC division recently launched Theraflu ExpressMax Caplets, a product with a “specially formulated coating” that “provides a warming sensation you can instantly feel, letting you know that powerful relief is on the way,” Theraflu’s website says.

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The Weather Company is also helping out with that launch. It’s working with GSK’s over-the-counter division to market the new formulation using local sentiment data collected on social media, eWeek reports.

"The combination of social sentiment and cognitive learning will not only inform and advise consumers, but it will provide fantastic insights for the marketing team as well in terms of knowing when to merchandise and market the Theraflu brand in different areas throughout the country," GSK Consumer Healthcare’s chief marketing officer, Theresa Agnew, told the publication.

Glaxo’s looking for ways to stay ahead in a consumer health market that’s growing ever more competitive. While it took the lead last year when it combined forces with Novartis to launch an OTC joint venture, competitors the likes of Johnson & Johnson, Bayer and Sanofi--which recently struck a deal to swallow Boehringer Ingelheim’s consumer offerings--are nipping at its heels.

Critics have some concerns about the company’s newest effort, though. Google pulled the plug on a similar project--dubbed Google Flu Trends--last year after an article in Science challenged its methodology, BuzzFeed News notes.

“If the information displayed on this platform is not presented in context, I am concerned that this tool could be used to promote their products more than inform the population,” Mauricio Santillana, a faculty member of the computational health informatics program at Boston Children’s Hospital, told BuzzFeed.

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