Will 'gamifying' drug R&D win more than Facebook fans for Boehringer?

Lots of computer games enlist players in quests to save the world. But how many would-be saviors are developing drugs? We can't think of any--until now. Boehringer Ingelheim is on the verge of launching Syrum, a Facebook game of test tubes and titrations, not crossbows and assault rifles.

"The health of the world is in your hands," Boehringer's director of digital, John Pugh, tells PSRK, in what could be a voice-over for a YouTube promo video for the game. "And you're the only one who can save it."

Players have to solve a problem--e.g., a pandemic--via drug development, all the way from early discovery through clinical trials and launch. They can enlist help from Facebook friends, and advance in the game by checking into locations via the social network's mobile app. "It wasn't built with a view to being an educational platform," Pugh says. "It's very much a game which is meant to be engaging and entertaining ... In the same way that Farmville doesn't just appeal to people who like farms, Syrum isn't just for people who like the pharmaceutical industry."

But it was education that drew Pugh and his team into the project; as he points out for PSFK, the industry does a lot of it, whether that's "educating" doctors about products, or teaching patients how to take their meds properly. Just because the game isn't designed as an educational platform doesn't mean it can't educate, in a stealthy, backhanded way.

Syrum has been in development for two years. On Sept. 13, Boehringer will unveil a beta version at a London conference, aiming to get feedback from players for future iterations. "[T]he game will grow and evolve as more people play it," Pugh says.

He also says Syrum is a "very unique offering from a highly regulated industry." True. Whether it will remain unique depends, in part, on how Syrum actually fares. Will it attract a following? And if it does, will gamification of drug development actually benefit Boehringer's business? Image? Relations with patients? Pharma's social media advocates (and skeptics) will be watching.

- read the story from PSFK

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