Unreported side effects of drugs discovered via Web search data
Using data drawn from queries entered into Google, Microsoft and Yahoo search engines, scientists at Microsoft, Stanford and Columbia University have for the first time been able to detect evidence of unreported prescription drug side effects before they were found by the Food and Drug Administration’s warning system.
Using automated software tools to examine queries by six million Internet users taken from Web search logs in 2010, the researchers looked for searches relating to an antidepressant, paroxetine, and a cholesterol lowering drug, pravastatin. They were able to find evidence that the combination of the two drugs caused high blood sugar.
The study…is based on data-mining techniques similar to those employed by services like Google Flu Trends, which has been used to give early warning of the prevalence of the sickness to the public.
The F.D.A. asks physicians to report side effects through a system known as the Adverse Event Reporting System. But its scope is limited by the fact that data is generated only when a physician notices something and reports it.
The new approach is a refinement of work done by the laboratory of Russ B. Altman, the chairman of the Stanford bioengineering department…
The group reported in May 2011 that it was able to detect the interaction between paroxetine and pravastatin in this way. Its research determined that the patient’s risk of developing hyperglycemia was increased compared with taking either drug individually.
The new study was undertaken after Dr. Altman wondered whether there was a more immediate and more accurate way to gain access to data similar to what the F.D.A. had access to…
They determined that people who searched for both drugs during the 12-month period were significantly more likely to search for terms related to hyperglycemia than were those who searched for just one of the drugs…
The researchers said they were surprised by the strength of the “signal” that they detected in the searches and argued that it would be a valuable tool for the F.D.A. to add to its current system for tracking adverse effects. “There is a potential public health benefit in listening to such signals,” they wrote in the paper, “and integrating them with other sources of information…”
“I think there are tons of drug-drug interactions — that’s the bad news,” Dr. Altman said. “The good news is we also have ways to evaluate the public health impact.
Scientific methods, rational data mining adds so much to the programs bureaucrats have come up with on their own.
Another great recommendation for multi-disciplinary approaches.