Internet searches can identify drug safety issues well ahead of public alerts

The authors base their findings on an analysis of the anonymised search logs of millions of US web users, who agreed to install a browser add-on and share their online searches with Microsoft throughout 2010. The researchers developed automated tools to analyse the queries of people who searched for information on the antidepressant (paroxetine) and a cholesterol lowering drug (pravastatin), using the search engines Google, Bing and Yahoo.

In 2010, it was not yet public knowledge that taking both these two drugs caused high blood sugar (hyperglycaemia), but the authors later extracted this information by mining the US drugs regulator's medicines side effect reporting system (AERS) and confirming the finding in a separate laboratory study.

In the web log study, the authors looked at whether people who had searched online for either one of the drugs separately, or for both of them, would also search with queries containing terms associated with the symptoms of high blood sugar.

In all, they analysed 82 million drug, symptom, and condition queries from among 6 million web users.

They found that online searches for information on prescription drugs was common, with more than one in 250 people looking up at least one of the 100 top selling drugs in the US, including paroxetine and pravastatin.

For people who searched online for both drugs during the 12 month period, queries were made on the same day in almost a third (29.61%) of searches, while four out of 10 were in the same week. Six out of 10 were made within the same month.

During the study period, those people who looked up both drugs online were almost twice as likely to search for terms associated with high blood sugar as were those who looked up the drugs separately.

One in 10 of those looking up both drugs did this, compared with around one in 20 of those looking up each drug separately. Just 0.3% of all users searched for one or more terms associated with high blood sugar over the 12 months.

These differences in search patterns were evident across the whole period of the study, and were not influenced by public information as the discovery of the interaction between this particular pair of drugs was only made in 2011.

Analysis of other 31 drug pair interactions associated with high blood sugar also indicated similar patterns, suggesting that the value of log analysis is not just confined to paroxetine and pravastatin.

"There is a potential public health benefit in listening to such signals, and integrating them with other sources of information," write the authors. "We see a potentially valuable signal, even though search logs are unstructured, not necessarily related to health, and can include any words entered by users," they add.

And they conclude: "We believe that patient search behaviour directly captures aspects of patients' concerns about sensed [symptoms] and can complement more traditional sources of data for pharmacovigilance [drug safety monitoring]."

Most Popular Now

A need for bananas? Dietary potassium regulates ca…

Bananas and avocados - foods that are rich in potassium - may help protect against pathogenic vascular calcification, also known as hardening of the arteries. University ...

FDA awards 15 grants for clinical trials to stimul…

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration today announced that it has awarded 15 new clinical trial research grants totaling more than $22 million over the next four years to...

Amgen and CytomX Therapeutics announce strategic c…

Amgen (NASDAQ:AMGN) and CytomX Therapeutics, Inc., (NASDAQ:CTMX) today announced that the companies have entered into a strategic collaboration in immuno-oncology. The co...

Novartis and The Max Foundation transform pioneeri…

Novartis announced a new collaboration with The Max Foundation to support continued access to treatment at no cost for nearly 34,000 current patients with chronic myeloid...

Roche launches NAVIFY Tumor Board solution to prov…

Roche (SIX: RO, ROG; OTCQX:RHHBY), has announced the launch of the NAVIFY Tumor Board solution, a clinical workflow and decision support software that optimises decision-...

AbbVie and Bristol-Myers Squibb announce clinical …

AbbVie (NYSE: ABBV) and Bristol-Myers Squibb Company (NYSE: BMY) today announced a clinical trial collaboration to evaluate the combination of AbbVie's investigational an...

Tagrisso granted breakthrough therapy designation …

AstraZeneca announced that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has granted Breakthrough Therapy Designation (BTD) for Tagrisso (osimertinib) for the 1st-line treatm...

Novartis and UC Berkeley collaborate to tackle 'un…

Novartis has joined forces with researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, to develop new technologies for the discovery of next-generation therapeutics, pu...

Pfizer launches novel programs to put important su…

Pfizer today unveils enhanced offerings to help patients manage their life with cancer. Pfizer Oncology Together is a first-of-its-kind program for patients taking Pfizer...

Printed meds could reinvent pharmacies, drug resea…

A technology that can print pure, ultra-precise doses of drugs onto a wide variety of surfaces could one day enable on-site printing of custom-dosed medications at pharma...

Danish discovery can pave the way for more effecti…

More than 600,000 Danes are being treated with cholesterol lowering medicine. 98 per cent of them are treated with statins, which curb the body's own production of choles...

Scientists find way to convert bad body fat into g…

There's good fat and bad fat in our bodies. The good fat helps burn calories, while the bad fat hoards calories, contributing to weight gain and obesity. Now, new researc...

Pharmaceutical Companies

[ A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Z ]