Summertime…and the livin' is easy. Well, sort of. It was another intense week in healthcare headlines. The FDA may get a new name; Facebook is redirecting users searching for opioids and the WHO has us wondering if our Candy Crush obsession is unhealthy.

Nah... all those taunting candies are just asking to be crushed… Here's what you need to know.

  • Facebook "unfriends" opioids: Facebook users searching for opportunities to purchase opioids or seek substance abuse treatment will now be redirected to a federal crisis helpline, as the company took action ahead of an FDA Summit on Tuesday. The FDA is convening Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Alibaba, Instagram, Snapchat and others with the goal of cracking down on the illegal sale of opioids, including fentanyl, on social media platforms.
  • Are you suffering from gaming disorders? To the dismay of teenage boys in basements everywhere, "gaming disorder" is now a legitimate medical condition, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The WHO claims addicted gamers are experiencing symptoms akin to depression and even suicidality. Public health experts hope the official designation will enable better reimbursement for mental health and psychiatric care. Ironically, the WHO's announcement comes at the same as more video game apps are seeking FDA review and approval to treat chronic conditions such as ADHA.

  • Did ICER just say the price is, RIGHT?! Increasingly, reports from the Institute for Clinical and Economic Review (ICER) are evaluating the clinical and comparative cost-effectiveness of investigational therapies. Essentially, this means ICER is evaluating a drug's price before it's approved in the market. One of the latest examples is AbbVie and Neurocrine's Elagolix, which is undergoing FDA review for endometriosis and uterine fibroid pain. Elagolix was found to potentially be cost effective in long term. BUT, ICER said there is insufficient data to understand Elagolix's long-term safety, which begs the question as to why conduct a review at this time anyway?

Okay, grab the sunscreen, umbrella, and barbecue; it's time for this week's edition of The Week That Was…


On the heels of the recently-signed Federal "Right-to-Try" law, Americans are being reminded that the Right-to-Try investigational medicines do not mean Right-to-Try for free. And that news didn't go over so well, which the CEO of one ALS development company quickly found. Earlier this week, a developer signaled to Bloomberg that it might charge patients who desire access to its experimental ALS stem-cell treatment in amounts comparable to other cell replacement therapies such as CAR-Ts (these therapies carry list prices of $300K - $400K). The CEO's remarks were met with eviscerating backlash from media and ethicists, and questions were raised about whether the company was attempting to profit at the expense of terminally-ill patients. In some cases, it appears the executive's remarks may have been taken out of context and extrapolated in the ensuing media cycle.


The new Right-To-Try law is rife with sensitive challenges and questions, many of which came to light last week. RTT has left many patients with the impression that drug makers must give access to investigational therapies, which is not the case. Sick patients will understandably want the next generation of treatments today. And life science companies have a slew of considerations that inform whether or not they can offer expanded access, including whether they can afford to do so while continuing their drug development programs. Last week's headlines raise the question: "What is a fair price and return for companies willing to take the risk in offering expanded access?" 

For developers, a word to the wise: communications around expanded access must be handled with great care and with the understanding that lives hang in the balance. Communications that seem more investor-focused than patient-focused can marginalize the very people you seek to serve and hinder conversations that help contextualize your decisions.


The US Department of Labor released a new rule this week that allows associations – such as small business trade groups– with members in different states to purchase health insurance jointly. These Association Health Plans (AHPs) are exempt from Affordable Care Act requirements that insurance plans cover specific Essential Health Benefits, such as maternity services, prescription drugs, or mental health care. As a result, they're expected to be a cheaper, more bare bones, coverage option for small businesses employees and self-employed individuals. The Labor Department expects four million people to enroll in these less-comprehensive plans during the next five years.


Proponents of AHPs say they deliver more choice and affordable insurance options to those needing health insurance. Critics argue they will benefit healthy patients and drive up costs for those Americans living with chronic and pre-existing conditions. Regardless, life science companies should expect that over the next few years, some patients will no longer have coverage for prescription drugs, labs, and mental health and substance use disorder services. Those patients may blame their insurers first, but eventually, they'll have tough questions for pharma and providers about the cost of drugs and care.


As consumer trust in companies reaches an all-time low, companies are experiencing limited success in communicating directly with customers on social media. In recent years, that realization has led savvy companies to engage "influencers" to help spread their message. An influencer is exactly what it sounds like: a social media user who is influential to certain audiences. This influence is typically confirmed by high-follower numbers and high engagement with their content (e.g., likes, shares). But a recent sub-trend has complicated the influencer position. Some people and brands have been "buying" followers to make it appear as though they are more influential than they really are. Thus, their prominence and influence are fake. 

But this week, the world's second-biggest advertiser, Unilever, took a stand against "fake" influencers and is committed to making its advertising more transparent. Unilever indicated it would no longer work with influencers that buy social media followers. The company also pledged that their social channels will never buy followers.

All recent research shows that consumers are craving companies they can trust. To gain that trust, you must have transparency. Whether you are selling soap, beer, or a prescription drug, if you are buying fake followers to up your online popularity, or employing an influencer with a manufactured following, you are lacking transparency. To this end, we applaud Unilever for setting this new, public standard, and we expect other companies will follow suit.
In biopharma, the issue of fake followers extends beyond customer retention. Think of the risk for patients looking to faux-influencers for potential treatment advice! For companies working with influencers, being responsible means implementing rigorous process-vetting standards. Here are some tips:
1. Follow growth rate: If an influencer’s following jumps out of nowhere, the following may be fake.
2. Monitor engagement rate: If they have few likes and comments but a lot of followers, their following may be fake.
3. Pay attention to audience locality: If a high percentage of the followers come from a specific country, their following may be fake.

Okay, for our all our (not fake) followers, we’re signing off for now!

Until next week,                
-  The Reputation & Risk Management Practice @ Syneos Health Communications

About the Author:

We are a team of healthcare communicators, policy-shapers and crisis response specialists. Drawing upon professional experiences from Congress, CMS, HHS, hospitals, and health technology—and our collective work in rare disease, oncology, diabetes, gene therapy, pain management and infectious disease—we provide unique solutions to the evolving messaging challenges in today’s healthcare industry. We support our clients with evidence-based approaches to preventing pricing pushback, protecting brands from modern activism, establishing and communicating clear policies surrounding expanded access to medicines, and a proactive approach to value frameworks. Our offerings also include product safety, litigation, regulatory risks, ex-U.S. considerations and policymaker investigations.