Someday, perhaps in the not too distant future, the dangerous side effects of drugs could be identified and tracked by analyzing Google searches. The Food and Drug Administration is talking with the Internet search giant about using the company’s search technology to identify previously unknown side effects of drugs, according to Bloomberg Business. If the plan comes to pass, it would mark yet another step in the digital transformation of post-marketing drug research.
Right now, the FDA tracks adverse events through reports made to the agency and tracked in a database, the FDA Adverse Event Reporting System, or FAERS. Adverse event reporting is critical for identifying safety risks and side effects that may not have come up in clinical trials, explains Regulatory Focus. Drug companies must report any adverse events to the FDA, but patients and doctors report these events voluntarily, which means that the reporting can be uneven and sporadic.
Finding dangerous side effects is important for pulling a dangerous drug off of the market before it causes injury, or even death. Bloomberg cites as an example the painkiller Vioxx, which was withdrawn from the market after evidence emerged that the drug’s use was associated with potentially fatal cardiovascular risks.
Bloomberg, citing FDA documents, reported that the agency spoke with Google officials who wrote a 2013 research paper about using search queries to identify adverse drug reactions. Microsoft researchers are also researching similar side effect detecting technology, according to Bloomberg.
Officially, the FDA isn’t saying much on the matter. An agency spokesman characterized the discussion as an introduction for how it might collaborate with Google, or use Google’s technology, to identify adverse events. But Regulatory Focus notes that in 2014, FDA researchers published a letter in Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics making the case that search engine logs could be used to identify adverse events. An FDA/Google collaboration makes sense. Google clearly has this search data, and working with Google would offer the FDA a way to upgrade a reporting system that hasn’t changed much in the last 20 years.
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