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FDA Talks with Google to See if Search Query can Help Identify Drug Side Effects

Jul 17, 2015

Discussions are in the works to determine how google searches may help the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) pinpoint drug side effects that were previously unknown, Bloomberg reports. On June 9th, a conference call was held between FDA officials and Google scientist Evgeniy Gabrilovich.

According to Google’s research page, Gabrilovich is a senior staff research scientist who specializes in data mining. In 2013, he co-authored a paper published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research showing that how adverse drug reactions could be identified through search query data. The findings showed that 176 million Yahoo search queries in 2010 could identify drug reactions "that have so far eluded discovery by the existing mechanisms,".

Chris Kelly, spokesman for the FDA, said the meeting was an opportunity "for the agency to begin a discussion on how we might collaborate with Google on identifying adverse event data, using Google’s technologies and data."

Currently, the FDA gets its safety data on humans from clinical trials. The largest population in these trials is generally no more than a few thousand, and the data is limited because it may not represent the general population. Patients may have other medical conditions or take other drugs that interfere with the drug’s safety or effectiveness. Sometimes a drug is pulled off the market completely after it is approved, as with the painkiller Vioxx.

Bloomberg reports that the FDA’s system for tracking adverse events has not evolved much and that it may miss problems. Ido Hadari, chief executive of Treato said “If you have the right technology to connect the dots, then you can see problems very, very early on," according to Bloomberg.

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