Pharma companies in the metaverse? Maybe not yet, but time to start thinking in the future.

Thanks to Facebook’s name change to Meta last year, everyone is talking about the metaverse — especially companies and brands scrambling to figure out how they’re going to play on the platform. But should pharma companies be jumping in to the metaverse, whatever it is?

Yes and no, industry experts say. There are some initial plays for pharma, like using augmented or virtual reality to better show how a drug works or what Parkinson’s disease tremors feel like. The future of the metaverse is still very much in the future, along with its major uses across biopharma in R&D, patient communications, drug launches, manufacturing and marketing. But it is on the way.

Even technologists are still coming up to speed, so anyone who claims expertise in the metaverse might not understand the real scope and depth of the platform. Right now, Pharma marketers are doing their best to understand what they don’t know, and how to build spaces and experiences for HCPs, consumers and patients that are meaningful.

So just what is the metaverse? Very broadly it is common virtual experiences where people shop, play and interact just like they do in the real world. The metaverse includes technologies like virtual reality, which uses headsets or helmets to immerse people into an experience — think Oculus video gaming — and augmented reality, which uses smartphones or glasses to overlay virtual objects onto real life scenes — think Pokemon Go or Snapchat filters.

Basically, the metaverse is gaming and shopping and hanging out with friends and seeking healthcare and information — it aims to connect all those pieces of people's real-world life in a digital way that is seamless,

Still, even the definition of the metaverse is evolving. As Wired explained after Facebook became Meta last year, “Talking about what ‘the metaverse’ means is a bit like having a discussion about what ‘the internet’ means in the 1970s. The building blocks of a new form of communication were in the process of being built, but no one could really know what the reality would look like. So while it was true, at the time, that ‘the internet’ was coming, not every idea of what that would look like is true.”

Which gets back to pharma marketing experts’ point that pharma should be investigating and considering the metaverse as an upcoming form of communication.

When we look back to the last big inflection point in technology (the creation of the iPhone, allowing people to have unlimited activity in their pockets), the metaverse jumps ahead of other digital technologies as the next big change in how we interact with the world around us

Pharma companies could create patient communities in the metaverse for example. Instead of talking to each other online or over Zoom, patients from all over the world could virtually sit down with others who have the same condition in a room in the metaverse and share what they’re going through.

Patient communities are a good place for pharmas to start.

Another use is virtual or augmented reality to help doctors or family members experience conditions like migraines — GlaxoSmithKline’s Excedrin brand built what became an award-winning VR headset experience to simulate migraine for sufferers’ loved ones. Another similar example is Klick Health’s SymPulse empathy device that stimulates the muscles and nerves in a person’s arm to replicate a Parkinson’s disease patient’s tremors.

Advertising is another place pharma companies may explore in the metaverse.

There is historical precedent: From 2005 to 2010, brands flocked to Linden Lab’s once-popular Second Life video game to set up stores and billboards inside the virtual world.

Second Life in fact may just have been ahead of its time.

A decade ago it was really just for fun. You could do some shopping and hanging out with friends. But now we’re all still connecting virtually and that’s not going away anytime soon. Post pandemic, there’s still some need for human connection in a way that’s just not met with a Zoom call - and that component can be built into these spaces.

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