Marc Iskowitz, editor in chief

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If there’s one lesson arm-chair prognosticators can take from 2016’s slew of projections gone wrong, it’s this: the prediction business is a risky one. Nevertheless, when asked to don my soothsaying cap for 2017, my thoughts turn to programmatic ad-buying.

By most accounts, drugmakers’ desire for efficiency in marketing and expanded ad inventory, combined with the ability to use the growing mounds of demographic and health data to more accurately target advertising, will drive programmatic.

See also: Pharma adopts data-science culture in move toward AI

Here’s the rub: Some of the same control issues that have kept pharma from jumping into social media with both feet (and continue to do so to this day) will slow pharma’s advance beyond the toe-dipping stage in programmatic.

Those include concerns about fake news and media placements that would invite criticism of the brand — or worse, enforcement action due to an ad appearing in a context for an off-label use. Moreover, there’s a lack of across-the-board certainty that ad impressions being served directly to HCPs or patients are in fact the same ones marketers are looking to reach.

These are not insurmountable challenges, but they’re very real. Programmatic is expected to attract bigger dollars from healthcare brands. But if the social media experience is any indication, it will be a long, slow trip.

Jaimy Lee, executive editor

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Ah, drug pricing. The issue that every pharmaceutical CEO, CFO, marketer, and PR person wishes would just fade away. Once relegated to the perspectives of opinionated oncologists, now even my mother knows what Martin Shkreli did.

In 2016, it was business as usual, for the most part, as more stories of egregious repricing of old drugs emerged and PBMs expressed outrage at the price tags of new drugs. But there were also shifts that speak to actual change underway in an industry that is desperately trying to find its footing in this new era of value-based care.

See also: Mylan CEO defends EpiPen strategy, questions pricing model in the U.S.

Allergan CEO Brent Saunders promised to limit annual price increases, referring to the new policy as a “social contract” with patients. Retrophin and Novo Nordisk followed suit. And at a Forbes event in December, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals CEO Leonard Schleifer called out the very same industry that employs him. “We as an industry have used price increases to cover up gaps in innovation,” he said, to a scoffing Ian Read, Pfizer’s CEO.

While these are not exactly quiet acts of resistance, what they do demonstrate is that the pricing models of years past no longer work. What’s next is unclear, but one can hope that the patient gains access to some of the value being tossed around.

Larry Dobrow, senior editor

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Well, this is a thankless exercise. Going on record with a healthcare policy prediction for 2017, a year in which the incoming administration’s core philosophical tenet is “blow it the #@%$& up, all of it?” Let the record reflect a degree of confidence in this prediction usually associated with half-court shots or privately funded rocket launches.

See also: Will he or won’t he? Pharma speculates on President-elect Trump

That said, if 2016 was “the year of the self-inflicted wound,” as BioPharma Alliance Mike Luby dubbed it back in October, 2017 is going to be the year of swimming in place. For all the rhetoric about the industry’s pricing practices, one senses that it ranks considerably lower on the priority list than, say, gutting the ACA. Read: pharma will remain everyone’s favorite punching bag, but none of the blows, regulatory or otherwise, will leave a mark.

Alas, I similarly don’t anticipate much action on the FDA guidance front for biosimilar nomenclature, off-label communication, or social media. Why? Mostly because I’m convinced that the eminently qualified, widely respected Dr. Robert Califf is going to be pushed out as FDA commissioner. Excuse me if this enters the realm of understatement, but Trump appears to enjoy placing his own distinctive personal stamp on most everything he encounters. If Califf goes, so too does the FDA’s current mojo — and the possibility that pharma marketers will receive the guidance they so desire anytime soon. Again: alas.  

Kevin McCaffrey, senior reporter

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The FDA’s bad-ad watchdog has issued a historically low amount of enforcement letters this year and last and, due to a number of factors, that trend will likely continue into 2017.

First, criticism from lawmakers and physician groups — coupled with the rise of specialty drugs  — could lead to fewer direct-to-consumer ads this year, despite drugmakers increasing their DTC spend by 20% in 2015.  With less eyeballs on your ad that means it’s less likely someone tipped off the FDA’s Office of Prescription Drug Promotion that you forgot to specify the risk information, or played loud brass trumpets during the presentation of risk information, or used a different narrator to downplay a drug’s risks entirely.

See also: Senate passes Cures Act, which opens door to use of real-world evidence

Second, and this is the optimist in me, maybe pharma is finally getting a handle on how to effectively use social media and digital channels. Gamification programs, integrated marketing campaigns spanning multiple channels, and new technology have raised the bar for pharma marketers.

Third, enforcement letters have been on a downward slope the past two years. In 2016, OPDP issued 11 letters, up slightly from 9 in 2015 and 2014, and down significantly from 2013 and 2012, when the agency sent 24 and 28 letters, respectively.

Virginia Lau, reporter

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Social media — it’s no longer a nice-to-have but a must-have for healthcare companies. And social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook are increasingly looking at the pharma opportunity with designated industry teams that work with healthcare and pharmaceutical companies.

And what we see from the FDA’s warning letters is encouraging for industry. In 2016, there were 11 warning and untitled letters issued by the FDA’s Office of Prescription Drug Promotion, six of which were related to digital platforms including websites, email, and YouTube. None were related to marketing actions taken on platforms like Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook.

See also: Lilly’s branded app for Trulicity looks to address adherence

Either the FDA is still at an observation phase or drugmakers are getting better at making the new medium work for them and their compliance teams.

In 2016, companies such as Boehringer Ingelheim, Novo Nordisk, and Pfizer solidified their presence on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. This year, I expect more companies to delve into Instagram and Snapchat — the former has 300 million active users, while the latter has 150 million active users per day.

Among the healthcare leaders of Instagram are Medtronic and Novartis, each with more than 15,000 followers to date, and there are others like Sanofi that have created a handle on the platform but not yet activated it with posts. Will 2017 be the year? It’s hard to tell. Snapchat is still pretty new for the industry, with the exception of cosmetic surgeons using the platform to show operations, but I think that will change this year as drugmakers and healthcare companies look for new ways to connect with patients and other stakeholders.

*Agree? Disagree? Either way, we’d love to hear from you, now and throughout the course of the year.