Internet Search Data Could Help FDA Find Harmful Drug Interactions

Internet searches could help FDA and pharmaceutical companies discover previously unknown harmful prescription drug interactions, according to researchers at Microsoft Research Labs and Stanford University, CNBC reports.

Findings by Microsoft, Stanford Researchers

After finding in 2011 that patients taking two prescription drugs — paroxetine, an antidepressant, and pravastatin, a cholesterol-lowering medication — could develop hyperglycemia, Stanford Bioengineering Department Chair Russ Altman and Microsoft Research Managing Co-Director Eric Horvitz discussed whether the reaction could have been discovered earlier looking at patients’ Internet searches.

The researchers then analyzed anonymized and consensual search engine data collected one year before FDA findings were released on the adverse drug interaction.

According to Hortiz, the analysis showed that if people were “interested in both drugs,” they were “more likely to search with a curiosity about symptoms of hyperglycemia” than if they were only taking one of the drugs.

FDA Takes Notice

Although Microsoft and FDA have not formed a formal partnership, the two groups met in September to discuss the researchers’ findings.

FDA spokesperson Andrea Fischer said, “We are currently monitoring research in this area and are also engaged in an exploratory pilot project to assess the value of user-generated digital data for post-market safety assessment of certain FDA regulated products including drugs, devices, biologics, vaccines and dietary supplements.” She added, “We are excited about the possibilities of using this type of data to improve or speed detection of significant issues.”

Fischer said that such “data [have] proven useful for similar health-related purposes such as detection and outbreak surveillance, so we are cautiously optimistic there will be value in the post-market safety setting, while also preparing for unique challenges involved in analyzing these data” (Morris, CNBC, 10/29).

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