Facebook made an interesting move this week when it reversed its policy to allow drug companies to maintain pages closed to comments, and I am really curious how this will play out in the near and far future.

Pharma companies are heavily regulated in what they can say to doctors and consumers, and also in what they have to report to the FDA. For example, a pharma company can talk to a doctor about using a particular drug but that discussion is confined to what is on the drug's label - that is, the condition for which the FDA approved the drug. Anything else, and you're talking about a drug off-label, and that means mega fines and, depending on the conversation, occasionally a visit from your friendly neighborhood Department of Justice representative. Then you have those pesky consumers, who bring up side effects directly related to the drug - perhaps they had a bout of nausea after taking your drug, or an arm fell off, or something that can be tied directly to the taking of your product. Companies have to report those 'adverse events' to FDA, or face consequences.

So, perhaps understandably, drug companies slowly waded into the Facebook juggernaut and were granted the ability to keep their walls closed to comments, thus avoiding any risk of potential off-label promotion, adverse event reporting, etc. Of course, the companies' walls then effectively acted simply as a promotional tool and not truly a two-way conversation. Unless you include 'liking' a drug page as a conversation.

Now, Facebook is forcing the companies' hands by allowing people to comment on pages that are focused on the company itself or on disease and/or patient-specific communities. (You still can't comment on specific product pages.)

Are people waiting with bated breath to post their drug-related medical issues? I don't know. People do put really stupid stuff (and really personal stuff) on Facebook. But if they do post something and the company exercises its right to delete the comment, what will the ramifications be? Several companies have already removed certain pages from their profiles - Amgen, Johnson&Johnson, Bayer, AstraZeneca, Purdue - while others like Pfizer and Sanofi are keeping their pages up and working to see how the changes will impact them. FDA doesn't plan to release Facebook-specific guidelines but rather 'general principles' for online communication.

What do you guys think about Facebook's new policy for pharma companies?