Online pharma just got more treacherous

As if to underscore the difficulty of keeping online-marketing rules current, Google has launched Sidewiki. It's a toolbar extension that adds a "sidebar" where people can comment on any and every website, plus respond to other comments. As Advertising Age notes, it's a potential thicket of trouble for pharma.

Will the FDA consider Sidewiki content to be independent from pharma websites? Or will companies be liable for what people write there? You can imagine the potential: Marketing types could post compliments and respond to criticisms--either openly, or under cover of anonymity. Which would make the sidebar fair game for regulators. Not to mention a regulatory nightmare. But how can drugmakers realistically be expected to police the stuff random web surfers say about their sites?

AdAge reports that comments are already popping up in the sidebars to various pharma sites. Amgen, Pfizer, Sanofi-Aventis, and Bristol-Myers Squibb have all attracted commentary and blog links. The magazine suggests that drugmakers figure out how to deal with Sidewiki, including developing some regulator-friendly, boilerplate comments, responses, how-to's, and so on.

But what's the FDA to do? The agency just recently waded into social media, by setting public hearings to gather input for an official policy. But the online world isn't going to stop and wait for FDA to come up with its rules. New stuff like Sidewiki will keep cropping up, and so FDA needs to make its rules flexible enough to cover new technology. Or it--and pharma--will always be latecomers to the party.

- read the AdAge article