Social media is interfering with drug development

QUICK READ: As the pandemic continues social media is playing a part in the potential approval(s) of drugs without full medical testing guidelines. Pharma companies need can earn the trust of consumers by providing credible information on drug development.

While the world is looking for answers in the search for a treatment for covid-19,the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, which has claimed more than 100,000 lives across the globe. A research trial of coronavirus patients in Brazil ended after patients taking a higher dose of chloroquine, one of the drugs President Trump has promoted, developed irregular heart rates.

Even before Trump started talking about the drugs, studies abroad sparked interest in them as a potential cure. News about the drugs spread quickly online, percolated in the media and the White House.

The Washington Post has reconstructed how the claim spread online and illustrates the troubling consequences of such misleading hope in the drugs Conversation around hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine as potential treatments for covid-19 started in China in late January.

Renée DiResta, technical research manager at the Stanford Internet Observatory, found that buzz around the drug was spreading on Facebook and Instagram. The number of total posts and interactions increased, and Internet speculation spread beyond China to Nigeria, Vietnam and France.

According to Starbird, the first viral tweets were posted by Paul Sperry, a staunchly conservative author, on March 9 and 11. A block chain investor, James Todaro, then tweeted a link to a Google document he co-wrote with Gregory Rigano about the potential cure on March 13. Tesla chief executive Elon Musk retweeted that Google doc on March 16, writing, “Maybe worth considering chloroquine for C19.” The faulty research then appeared in the Gateway Pundit, Breitbart and the Blaze. It ultimately made its way to Fox News, first appearing on Laura Ingraham’s program on March 16. Fox News shows hosted by Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson went on to promote the drugs and continue to do so.

As attention to the drugs became even more prolific — online, in the media and from the president — scientists say there is only “anecdotal evidence” on the drugs. To a layperson, that may not sound bad, but it’s actually an insult in the scientific community.

The search for a vaccine has even involved tech companies. Bill Gates, the former CEO of Microsoft, is using high tech modeling to develop a vaccine, but he wants protection against lawsuits if the product is used. What this tells me is that he “wants to cut corners” and rush the vaccine to market without full medical testing. This is very dangerous.

Fierce Pharma further reported “the public perception of the pharma industry may be starting to turn, thanks to concerted COVID-19-related efforts. New data on American views from APCO Worldwide surfaced a few bright spots for pharma, including public hope and optimism for treatments and vaccines”. However, what they fail to mention is that past polls indicated that the public always trusted pharma to develop the drugs we need but they didn’t trust pharma to price the drugs fairly.

Pharma needs to educate the public that developing better drugs takes time and that shortcuts could lead to bigger problems. I have no doubt that SOME processes can be cut, but when we’re talking about drug development, we can’t afford to put patients’ lives at risk. Pharma companies that are asking for protection from future lawsuits cannot be trusted to develop drugs that help us rather than add to their bottom lines.