AstraZeneca's "Man Behind the Curtain" Moment: Company's Blog Monitoring Database Is Hacked

Last Updated Apr 30, 2010 11:45 AM EDT

AstraZeneca (AZN) woke up to a PR headache this morning when a mental health blogger got hold of a database created to monitor web coverage of its antipsychotic drug Seroquel. Although the database doesn't contain any specific gaffes, it's still something of a "Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!" moment for the company.

Everyone knows pharmaceutical companies monitor bloggers who cover the drug business. But they don't usually let bloggers see the results of their surveillance, which is what makes this incident so fascinating. Seroquel is a touchy subject for AZ right now, as it is facing thousands of lawsuits claiming the company failed to warn patients that a side effect of the drug is weight gain. Seroquel is one of AZ's best-selling drugs.

The database, as published on the blog "Is Something Not Quite Right With Stan," is tricky to navigate. But the best results can be had by clicking on field under "Annotation Groups." That drop-down menu lists all the headlines that the database tracked in that period. Some of the results are inane:

Actor Jim Carrey splits with Jenny McCarthy
Others are clearly spot on:
Pharmagossip amplifies DIDA documents that reveal "connection" between SEROQUEL and crisis consultant.
That last one was probably a reference to this item. AZ had this to say:
We believe it is important to read what is openly written about the business and our medicines to better understand issues that are important to journalists, bloggers and the public.
The database was prepared by v-Fluence, a pr firm employed by AZ. The agency's chief, Jay Byrne, published a blog item this morning explaining why drug companies monitor web coverage. He posted separately that he believed his site had been hacked; Stan denied hacking.

Big Food conspiracy theorists can look here for more information on Byrne, a former director of public affairs for Monsanto. Related:

Image: The Wizard of Oz's man behind the curtain.