Biotech Begins to Come of Age on Twitter

9/17/12Follow @xconomy

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getting the real-time scoop. There’s a lot to be gained in terms of networking, raising a person’s profile as an expert, and raising awareness of issues.

For example, consider the FDA approval of Medivation’s (NASDAQ: MDVN) new prostate cancer drug late last month. The press release came out, and since I considered this news, I jumped on it and wrote a short breaking news story for Xconomy in about 30 minutes. Like everything else I write, I sent that out on my Twitter account to my followers, because I knew many would find it useful. A few people re-tweeted it to their networks of followers, giving it an even bigger audience than it would otherwise get just among regular readers who come to our website each day.

But that’s really just where Twitter starts warming up. Medivation issued a press release with usual executive quotes, but didn’t include a vitally important fact—the price of the new drug. I knew that information was coming out on a conference call later that day, and that I was going to fire that key factoid to my followers in real-time, then incorporate it into an updated version of my earlier news story. When the company divulged the price, I sent that number out on Twitter, as did at least a few others. But there was more going on here than just basic reporting of the fact. Within a couple minutes, David Miller at @biotechstockrsr put it in some context—and put his expertise on display—by saying the Medivation price was significantly higher than that of a competing drug from Johnson & Johnson. And a few minutes after that, the well-known cancer consultant Sally Church (@MaverickNY), reminded her followers of an issue that’s important to her—the skyrocketing pricing trend among cancer drugs and the financial hardship it is putting on many patients.

Right there, in the span of probably 15 minutes, if you were following all of those people, you could have absorbed a great amount of information, context, analysis, and opinion about this one prostate cancer drug. In the pre-social media days, all of that information could have been gathered by a reporter working the phone and packaged together for a complete story in the next morning’s paper. Instead, you get all that news and insight hours faster, from a variety of sources you never would have heard from before.

Probably the biggest question I have about Twitter these days is why more people in the industry aren’t on it. As Gilman advises many of his peers, there’s really no risk at all if you want to be a “lurker” who just observes the hurly-burly and use it as a feed for incoming news. Reid, the PR guy, said he wonders too why more industry executives haven’t really engaged, like Richard Pops (@popsalks) has as the CEO of Dublin, Ireland- and Waltham, MA-based Alkermes (NASDAQ: ALKS).

Naturally, I thought I should ask Pops. Rather than call him at his office or send him an e-mail, I sent him a question that all of our followers could see on Twitter on Friday afternoon:

“Hi Richard. Working on BioBeat column for Mon. Wondering why more execs aren’t on Twitter like you. Ideas?”

Within a couple hours, another biotech executive, Kevin Judice (@KevinJudice) surprised me by pouncing and offering his own view: “Fear of hedge fund lynch mobs? RegFD? Right question may be “why are any execs on Twitter in the first place?”

A reasonable response, I thought, and those are surely factors that Pops has to consider as the CEO of a publicly traded company. But within a couple of hours, Pops answered the question too:

“Twitter = New Frontier. Someone has to lead…” he said.

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  • http://twitter.com/mkoeris Michael Koeris

    Great quote by @popsalks – totally agree

  • http://twitter.com/kevintoshio Kevin Chow

    Agree with Michael Gilman — Twitter is a great medium to stay on top of breaking news in biotech. Instead of the old way of waiting for the next day’s Biospace (or other daily alert), a quick scan of the Twitterfeed first thing in the morning (or the night before) can be highly informative. Just follow the feeds from the leading journalists and bio/pharma companies. No risk in doing that.