7 posts tagged “online communities”

Where are the Cures?
An interview with Myelin Repair Foundation

Posted February 24th, 2010 by

PatientsLikeMe partner, Myelin Repair Foundation (MRF), is a nonprofit organization devoted to reducing the time it takes to discover and develop treatments for multiple sclerosis (MS) patients.  Recently, the MRF launched a campaign called “Where are the Cures?” – a site dedicated to a greater understanding of the barriers slowing the discovery and development of new patient treatments in all diseases.  PatientsLikeMe co-founder Jamie Heywood asked Scott Johnson, President and Founder of MRF, about the campaign.

headshot (Jamie) What’s the big idea behind Where are the Cures?
picture-097 (Scott) The big idea? Finding a way or ways to accelerate the development of new patient treatments.Developing new medicines or treatments for complex diseases is extraordinarily difficult. But it is not impossible and it should be happening at a faster rate than it has been. I believe the single most rate-limiting factor is the failure to move promising scientific discoveries made in academic laboratories into the commercial development pipeline.The problem is fairly simple. On the front end of the value chain, academic laboratories are spending upwards of $40 billion a year in government and non-profit dollars to make basic scientific discoveries that may be potential drug targets. On the back end, the pharma industry is facing a crisis of grand proportion as a result of its dwindling pipeline. The obvious question is why isn’t pharma reaching into this vast pool of potential drug targets to fill their pipeline? Because between the two is what is known in the industry as the Valley of Death.I think two things primarily contribute to this disconnect. First, most biological discoveries made in academic labs are not patented. Without the clear ownership that patent protection provides, biopharma is unwilling to make a multimillion investment in drug development. Second, there is little to no funding available to conduct the validation studies necessary to fully demonstrate that the basic scientific discoveries made in academic laboratories will truly and safely impact the disease state in humans. Without this validation, again, the perceived risk to pharma is too high.Knowing this, it’s shouldn’t be surprising that so few treatments for difficult diseases are coming to market.So how do we capitalize on the promising discoveries made in universities and feed that pipeline? We address those two problems: protecting the IP and funding validation studies.We are doing this at the Myelin Repair Foundation and it can be done in other medical research. But it requires an open mind and a set of shared incentives that puts the patients’ needs before other current incentives.
headshot (Jamie) As a part of the campaign, you launched The Patient’s Manifesto, a declaration that the medical research system is broken and a call for massive change across industries.  Why should a patient with life-changing condition sign it?
picture-097 (Scott) We created the manifesto because we wanted to bring attention to the problem and provide a venue where new ideas would be talked about. There is a lot of innovation going on in the industry but we have to find ways of sharing it. Why should patients sign the manifesto and encourage others to do the same? On the premise that the squeaky wheel gets oiled first, we think that we will be more successful at bringing public attention to this problem if there appears to be a significant groundswell of people who care. The millions of patients and their families living with chronic diseases are the most motivated to create change. There is no implied promise here. It’s all about building awareness and attracting attention in a way that will spur change.
headshot (Jamie) Both our organizations work to help let the patient voice be heard.  What do you think a patient’s role is in making our research system more efficient?

picture-097 (Scott) I think the entities that are best positioned to tackle the Valley of Death are the non-profit disease research foundations like the MRF. Their only motivation is improving the quality of life for patients. Because we are not driven by academia’s need to “publish or perish” or by pharma’s need to increase shareholder value, we have the freedom to move among and between the players in the value chain and facilitate the process on behalf of patients.  It is largely patients and their families who support these non-profit organizations and for their investments they have a right to ask for accountability. While investing in basic research is an absolutely essential part of the equation, it takes more than that to get a drug to market. Patients should be asking the organizations they support how they plan to actually accomplish that once the basic science is completed. I think as patients, we understand that this isn’t easy. But we don’t have to sit back and be satisfied with the status quo.
headshot (Jamie) No we don’t, Scott.  Thanks for talking with us about the campaign.  For those of you wondering, yes I’ve signed The Patient Manifesto.  Have you?  Go to www.wherearethecures.org for more information.

Sharing, Openness…and Privacy?

Posted November 18th, 2009 by

Every so often, we sit down to try and make our business objectives clearer to our patient communities.  Why?  Well, we can’t have a business without you and our communities can’t exist to help patients without a business.

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This often results in our Privacy Policy and User Agreement being updated to help clarify our goals and objectives.  One of our company’s core values is transparency, which means we never want to surprise you.  Our site wouldn’t be what it is today if we didn’t honor the trust you put in us.  Because of that trust and our values, we want you to understand what our Privacy Policy means for you and make sure it clearly states what we’re doing with your information as a business.

So, what has changed about our Privacy Policy?  Well, the short answer is not much – but if you haven’t read it in a while, it will read differently (and hopefully much clearer).  As you know, we talk very openly about how we encourage our paying customers to partner with our patients (check out our Read This! section) to better serve your needs. The latest changes to the Privacy Policy reflect what we have always intended to do as a business, which we’ve hopefully expressed to you.  In this latest revision, we try to make it clearer by providing examples of what different parts of the policy means.  We give specific examples of real world cases of where and when your data is used and/or sold.

For example, over the last year we have expanded our efforts into understanding drug safety in the real world.  This started with the Treatment Evaluations – letting you tell us (and our customers) what is good and what is bad about the treatments you are taking.  Next, we piloted (in our MS community) the ability to voluntarily report adverse events directly to the FDA through PatientsLikeMe.  Lastly, in conjunction with UCB, we are expanding our efforts to measure drug safety in the Epilepsy community.  All of these initiatives are building to a better understanding of how treatments work in the real world – one of our goals here at PatientsLikeMe.

As we’ve said through our site from the start – you control your information and you “may enter as much or as little information as they like.” We just added “and should not enter any information they feel uncomfortable sharing.”  This is common sense on any website, but for new members we wanted to make it clearer.   The bottom line – the more you share about your real identity online (whether its on PatientsLikeMe or other Internet sites), the better the chance that someone could identify you.

If you haven’t see our Read This! section, please do.  It’ll help give you a sense of what we believe the risks and benefits are to sharing information.  Openness is at the core of who we are as a company (see our Openness Philosophy).  Your openness is improving patients’ lives, accelerating research and helping improve medical care.   Thank you for that.  If you have any questions or comments, you know where to find us!

PatientsLikeMe member bheywood


Rare Diseases: Well-Done Online

Posted July 17th, 2009 by

There are rare diseases, and there are rare diseases. Here at PatientsLikeMe our first community was built for patients with ALS (estimated US Prevalence: 30,000), and in common with our other neurological communities there is a familiar list of challenges: low public awareness, little funding for research, and a lack of adequate treatments. However, over the past year or so I’ve really had my eyes opened to the differences between “rare” and what you might call “super-rare” conditions, such as Devic’s neuromyelitis optica. Nobody really knows how many people Devic’s affects as it is frequently confused with MS, but there are probably only a few thousand patients with this condition in the world. That’s why we’re incredibly proud that our Devic’s community currently has 136 registered patients sharing health data with one another; that’s more than 5 times larger than the largest study I’ve seen on the condition in the scientific literature (which included collaborators from around the world in seven specialist centers over the course of several years).

I was privileged to be invited to speak at the annual meeting of Eurordis (The European Organization for Rare Diseases) in Athens, Greece, to meet with some of the leading online health efforts in this space. Attendees included non-profit organizations, medical professionals, and patients themselves from all over Europe.  We all convened to discuss some of the most innovative tools available on the web for patients to find other patients like them, share their data, and improve their outcomes. PatientsLikeMe was featured as an ambitious and innovative effort to accelerate the pace of research in rare diseases but we also saw great initiatives that had come from the frontlines of rare diseases.  In fact, the point about ultra-rare diseases was driven home in the opening keynote by Yann Le Cam when we heard that there are some 5,500 rare diseases cataloged by Orphanet (including Devic’s) which are not in the ICD-10 taxonomy of diseases. Ultimately, at PatientsLikeMe, our goal is to build a community for every life-changing illness that exists, but what can patients with these conditions be looking for in the meantime?

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The highlight of the meeting for me was seeing the incredible work being carried out at Duchenne Connect.org (The Netherlands) and Duchenne Connect.org (USA). Founders Elizabeth Vroom and Pat Furlong gave an overview of their experiences building patient-focused programs that allowed parents of children with Duchenne’s Muscular Dystrophy to support one another, accelerate the efforts of researchers, and bring greater attention and focus to patients affected by this rare disease. From the other side of the Atlantic, Mary Dunkle from NORD (National Organization for Rare Diseases) made a clear statement that online communities have the power to be far more than just bulletin boards and blogs for patients to use for emotional support. In her presentation, she stated: “We want to move beyond simply providing emotional support…to facilitate action that produces results”; we couldn’t agree more. Videos of the talks from these amazing patient advocates (along with many other talks from the meeting) can be viewed online here at the Eurordis website.

There were a number of challenges that were highlighted during the meeting. David Golub was the first to articulate that there are serious ethical issues implicit in for-profit companies (like us!) being involved in patient research that was traditionally the remit of academics and clinicians. He asked us to all consider what we can all do to “protect the public commons?”. Unsurprisingly for a European audience, there was much concern about language specialization.  Patient advocates insisted on better localization to allow broader access to non-English speakers, and for providers like us trying to find innovative ways to ensure excellent content that can be dynamic and accessible for all. My own view is that technology (like Google Translate) will outpace any system we could possibly resource with human translators.

Finally, there was the question put to us by event organizer Denis Costello from Eurordis; how can small non-profits in ultra-rare diseases partner with organizations like PatientsLikeMe?  It’s something we think about every day. Our Devic’s community came out of our MS Community; PSP and MSA came from Parkinson’s; and PLS and PMA came out of ALS. We are developing strategies to build communities for “clusters” of communities that will allow us help a broader swathe of patients with both prevalent and rare conditions. It was hugely encouraging to see the energy, ingenuity, and determination that you see when advocates are passionate about helping patients.


Introducing “The Patient Voice” – First up? Inpatient Therapy

Posted June 3rd, 2009 by

Today’s patient has a loud and strong voice.  At PatientsLikeMe, we hear you.  You’re saying, “I know this disease, I know how it acts in the real-world, and it’s time to share that with others.”

With thousands of patients sharing data and experiences every day on our site, we’ve decided to launch a report that takes what you, the patient, knows and shares it with you, the patient community at-large.  For obvious reasons, we’re calling it The Patient Voice.picture-4

The Patient Voice is a collection of wisdom, sentiments and experiences shared by patients like you regarding important issues you face today.  The reports include PatientsLikeMe member tips, suggested checklists and questions to ask yourself, and real-world patient experiences, as well as some fun facts from about the PatientsLikeMe community.

The first report is from our Mood Conditions Community, representing patients with depression, anxiety, bipolar, OCD and PTSD, on the topic of inpatient therapy (or hospitalization).   It’s a topic that comes up quite a bit in our forum, and patients are openly sharing their positive (and negative) experiences with one another.  We’re now sharing some of the positive experiences with you.  Take a look at the free report and let us know what you think.  Share it with your friends and loved ones who might find it useful.  And, please, join the conversation on PatientsLikeMe today.  You have a voice, so let’s hear it!

PatientsLikeMe member dwilliams


Sharing to Feel Better

Posted April 10th, 2009 by

familyfun-sandbox Sharing.  It’s a concept we all learn at a very young age.  Oftentimes reminisced as happening in the sandbox, we think back to our young selves giving up what we hold most dear (in this case, some cheap plastic toy) to allow someone else to benefit from it.  It seems so simple and obvious, but how many toddlers do you know that immediately give into the concept…easily handing over that toy without a moment of hesitation or a slight tug back or possibly the more extreme screaming tantrum?   Over time, what happens is that the more they share, the more they see it puts a smile on their friends’ face, or gives them something in common to “chat” about.

You don’t need to be clairvoyant to see where I’m going with this.  Sharing is at the core of PatientsLikeMe, and it’s what makes our communities so special.  More than 32,000 patients are online sharing something they hold dear — details about their health — so that others can see it, learn from it, and dialogue about it.  It’s truly inspirational and something we believe is transforming healthcare as we know it.

But sharing doesn’t have to stop there.  From a marketing perspective, one of the most widely used and successful viral tactics is the “Share This” button.  You see it everywhere online – blogs, news articles, videos, and more.  We just recently implemented it across our site, so patients can “Share This” treatment or symptom report, press releases, research findings, etc.  It’s an easy way to pass that “toy” across the cyber-sandbox to others who might learn or benefit from it.

It’s nice every once in a while to think back to what we learned as kids and figure out a way to incorporate those values into our adult lives.  Sharing is just one of those things.

So you weren’t the type to share your toys?  Feel like you share too much?  Comments are welcome below.

PatientsLikeMe member lscanlon


CBS Evening News, BusinessWeek, Fibromyalgia: Oh, Just Your Typical Friday

Posted December 5th, 2008 by

It’s exciting times for PatientsLikeMe!

fibronew.pngToday, our new community for people with fibromyalgia goes live on our site.  Spread the word!  Let’s bring a new level of understanding to this disease in a way that nobody else can.  Next week: a blog series regarding this new community and the people in it.

bw_255x541.gifIf you haven’t checked out the most recent issue of BusinessWeek yet, you’re in for a treat. Senior writer Catherine Arnst takes an in-depth look at how PatientsLikeMe is “changing the nature of drug research and the practice of medicine” in her article -  “Health 2.0:  Patients As Partners.”

picture-5.pngFinally, turn your channel to CBS Evening News with Katie Couric tonight to see PatientsLikeMe featured in a segment with medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.  Part of a week-long series about patients finding medical information online, our piece will include interviews with a patient member, as well as our founders.


We have lots happening, and lots more to come!  Stay tuned…literally.

PatientsLikeMe member lscanlon


PatientsLikeMe Update: May 2007

Posted May 15th, 2007 by

This month is momentous because we’re celebrating a major milestone at PatientsLikeMe. We now have over 1,000 PALS in our community. Thank you for making PatientsLikeMe your home and spreading the word to other PALS. The more patients we have, the more we learn from each other.

We are also thrilled to announce the debut of two new communities for Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis (MS). If you know people with either condition, invite them to join PatientsLikeMe. We want them to know what you’ve already learned – that when patients share their data, it empowers everyone.