RealAge backed by Big Pharma

It turns out that the online phenom RealAge is a real bonanza of information for Big Pharma. The New York Times reports today that the website--which advertises itself all over the web as a longevity coach--collects information via its RealAge test for drugmakers, which use the info in their marketing.

Here's how it works. Site visitors take the 150-question RealAge test, knowing that at the end of it, they'll get advice on how to reduce their "real age" and boost their longevity. Throughout, test-takers are offered free RealAge membership. If they sign up, that bonanza of information, complete with personal identification data, is stuck into a marketing database.

Pharma companies pay RealAge to send marketing messages to members--selected according to various symptoms and characteristics they report--via email. Members gate messages about their potential conditions even before they have been diagnosed by a doctor. Drugmakers that tap RealAge for info include Pfizer, Novartis and GlaxoSmithKline.

Say a member has osteoarthritis symptoms. RealAge might then send that "undiagnosed at-risk patient" a health newsletter about the disease, sponsored by a drugmaker that sells osteoarthritis meds. The pharma companies are kept one step away from direct contact with potential patients, so they can avoid running afoul of DTC rules. Neat for drugmakers, potentially not so neat for RealAge members who don't realize that drug companies have access to their test answers.

- read the NYT story