Eric Glazer, VP Marketing/Online Communities, Cambridge Healthtech Associates : Present day technology has enabled us to facilitate aluable online communities in all areas of our lives: commerce, sports, health, match making, product reviews, etc. Social media is like the “networking cocktail reception” that never ends (just without the open bar). In business and science, easy-to-use communication platforms enable networking and important information exchange. This in turn positively impacts productivity and solution generation.
Patients participate in blogs, online advocacy groups, or third party communities like PatientsLikeMe. They are able to collaborate, share solutions and therapy options, physician referrals, and rehabilitation approaches. Physicians collaborate through “doctor only” communities like Medscape Connect and Sermo. They advise each other on treatment options and share new insights on medications and devices. The benefits are just as rich for R&D. Online peer-to-peer consulting and collaboration can streamline processes, improve efficiencies and reduce the overall costs in drug development.
In our view, the dynamic field of next-generation sequencing (NGS) can benefit from a community dedicated to sharing ideas and strategies, a virtual meeting place where academics and industry professionals, bench scientists and bioinformaticians can discuss key trends and brainstorm solutions. Cambridge Healthtech Associates (CHA, a sister organization to Bio•IT World) is incorporating these ideas as we plan the October launch of our latest online community, NGS Leaders (www.nglsleaders.org; twitter.com/ngsleaders), a free online membership for pioneers in next-generation sequencing.
In 2009, we created a similar online community, the Drug Safety Executive Council, (DSEC) dedicated to the vital topics of drug safety. DSEC currently boasts some 2,000 members who meet regularly online to gather and share pre-competitive information. The community spawned a working consortium that cooperatively validates novel, predictive nonclinical assays, reducing the cost and time associated with the evaluation of predictive safety technologies
The challenge is developing and maintaining a self-sustaining, member-driven community culture. This is especially difficult in the heavily-regulated, conservative culture of life sciences where leaders are less apt to express opinions. However there are some best practices for making a life sciences community successful.
- Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) and Evangelists
NGS Leaders will feature an advisory board of key opinion leaders and evangelists representing government, academic/research centers, biopharmaceutical companies and leading technology and software providers The board will influence community policies, programming, and content, and board members will contribute content including online discussions, guest blog posts, webinars, and face-to-face events.
- Programming and Member Participation
NGS Leaders will feature live events that tackle subject matter that is highly relevant to members. Some members will be invited to sit on panels during the webinars and others may also be asked to be “question askers” in the audience. In a recent industry survey conducted by CHA, 74% of respondent said discussion forums are a “must have” for a closed, industry-specific community. Thus we are asking KOLs and other subject matter experts that make up the membership to lead online discussions leading to member-driven online discussions. “Assigning” member involvement is a critical task during the first 12-18 months of a community’s life. The ancillary benefit to your hard work is it allows you to nurture relationships with your most important peers and colleagues.
- Product Reviews
Ill-advised investments in new technologies contribute to the rising cost of R&D. During our last industry survey, more than 90% of respondents agreed that an online product review or evaluation forum would be valuable. An easy-to-navigate product review feature harnesses the power of the community and translates into smarter investment decisions by R&D organizations. NGS Leaders will enable members to rate and comment on various technologies like sequencers, informatics software, hardware, and more. The site will also allow members to search products by type or rating.
- Inclusivity and Promoting Other
We believe it is important to promote good content no matter if it’s our own or someone else’s. The mission of NGS Leaders is to further fuel the progress of next-generation sequencing so it may positively impact patients sooner. To that end we will promote other sources—like SeqAnswers and Genomes Unzipped—that are important to fulfilling our mission.
Communities like DSEC and NGS Leaders provide an environment to build trust and exchange ideas around the industry’s shared challenges. James Surowiecki proclaims in The Wisdom of Crowds, that “groups are remarkably smart, smarter even sometimes than the smartest people in them.” In many ways online communities tap into this dynamic.
This article also appeared in the September-October 2010 issue of Bio-IT World.