Talk to a Technology Transfer Executive at any University and they will tell you the licensing money is in Biotechnology, more simply put, in medicine. Innovation in the Biotechnology marketplace is a very different proposition than it is for materials, devices, energy, software or any other area of invention and innovation. The sums of money spent on research are huge, in 2007 that figure for the US was estimated at $122 billion.
Not only are large sums invested in research, but the time to market is long, ten years to get a drug from the laboratory to market is consider an achievement. But the pay off for all this time and money can be enormous, Emory University and Northwestern received tens of millions of dollars from biotechnology patents in last few years. Healthcare is one industry where consumers do not have much of a choice when it comes to purchasing a product. Suffering, pain or death are not an option. A successful drug passed by the FDA and other overseas agencies is the closest thing to the right to print money.
At this moment, opportunities for innovation beckon, patents on successful drugs are expiring, and the pipeline is pretty empty. Companies like Pfizer are going back through their stocks of rejected compounds to find any that can be marketed. Drugs like the dreaded Thalidomide, that caused horrendous birth defects in the 1960s are being resurrected as possible treatments for cancer.
It is against this background that my company MMC Productions began a social media marketing campaign for a promising vaccine for Dengue Fever. If that seems like an esoteric illness suffered by people in countries far away you would be wrong. Dengue Fever affects 50-100 million people worldwide every year, it can be fatal to young children. In the 1980s the Tiger Mosquito that carries the virus entered the US and has been silently, and relentlessly spreading. There is no treatment just the hope for a vaccine. AMEDD, the US Army Medical Department considers it public enemy number two after Malaria.
Using social media for Bio innovation is a very different proposition from marketing any other promising technology. First there are only a handful of drug companies that manufacture vaccines, Merck, Sanofi, GSK, Novartis, Medimmune, Pfizer, a couple of others and that is about it. For that we can thank the scare mongers who spread rumors using pseudo science that vaccines caused autism. The legal costs of frivolous lawsuits puts scores of vaccines makers out of business.
So it wouldn’t appear on the surface that the social media open innovation model would have much place in such a tight and targeted market, not so. There are thousands of researchers working on possible vaccines for Dengue Fever, at NGOs like the World Health Organization, in Companies, Government Labs and Universities. What separates those that will succeed is not just great science, that is a given, but the perception that certain research has other benefits that make it attractive for further funding or licensing.
This is where social media marketing of innovation comes in, spreading the message and having it amplified through blogs, articles, seminars and other venues. The first step is making people aware there is a major concern and why. That requires explaining just how nasty this virus is. Its nickname is “Break Bone” fever, because suffers feel like every bone in their body is broken, the mosquito is very aggressive, its feeds 24/7 and there is no treatment.
Creating awareness and discussion in bio-based social media, such as Science Daily, Science Direct, New Scientist opens the conversation to what are the possible solutions. This is the point in the process when the business factors become relevant such as manufacturing costs, number of injections, length of protection, whether this technology can be used as a platform for other treatments as well as location. It is also the point where an emerging company needs to be visible and have media, print and video ready at hand. If a news item on CNN wants to discuss what to do about an outbreak of Dengue, there is not much in the way of ready to hand video out there.
A company having a well produced 4 minute ready to go video piece that a News Editor can watch on YouTube and then draw from puts that company in the spotlight. That is why we made a video for Arbovax, a company with a promising vaccine for Dengue Fever. In the months ahead, after some SEO work and well placed media, when the words “vaccine for Dengue fever” are put into Google their name will be prominent. In addition, the media created highlights many of the built in advantages that will appeal to a drug company or investor. They are located in one of Biotechnology “hot” spots, North Carolina, home to Duke, UNC, and Wake Forest, Merck has a vaccine plant in Durham, and GSK has its US headquarters in RTP. Also in North Carolina the most expensive and biggest Biotechnology Center in the world is being built at Kannapolis. These are important considerations as are the lower costs to manufacture, the inventors are close by in NC State and the technology has the potential to be a platform for other treatments.
Using social media marketing puts Arbovax on the radar of investors and corporations, as well as major grant agencies. The attention is not limited to the US and Europe, online media is global. I see that every day in the metrics, it is not just Sanofi in France, but medical companies in Indonesia, India and China that are visiting, watching the video and reading the materials. These are new companies with available funds, a market of millions of sufferers needing an affordable vaccine. The end goal is to create enough momentum to get a partnership, a license or the millions of dollars that will be necessary to make this vaccine into a blockbuster.
Peter Doyle is an award winning media marketing, news and documentary producer using rich media to accelerate innovation and commercialization. Check me out at http://www.linkedin.com/in/peterjdoyle