Boehringer Ingelheim is launching Syrum, a social game on Facebook designed to help online visitors understand how medical research is carried out and how pharmaceutical laboratories work.

Pharmaceutical laboratories, which have long been suppliers of products to improve public health and well-being, now also, it seems, have the job of raising people’s awareness of medical issues. Pharma labs are increasingly taking on this educational role; and they have begun to benefit from the opportunities offered by digital technology to re-think their communication approach. This is what Sanofi Aventis is doing with its IBG Star initiative, a blood glucose meter which you connect to your smartphone and it then analyses the results using a dedicated app. More recently, in September, the German pharma company Boehringer Ingelheim GmbHlaunched Syrum, a social game on Facebook, which is designed to raise awareness on how diseases appear and spread and also to improve general understanding of the medical research process. “The aim of the game is to explain what we do and show the realities of pharmaceutical research,”John Pugh, Director of Online Communications at Boehringer Ingelheim, explained to L'Atelier.

Discovering a cure and bringing it to market

One of the realities is that it takes around fifteen years to develop a new drug, from harvesting the first molecule to getting the product on to the shelves. And of course financing this process requires a lot of money. To play the game, users access it via Facebook and are then invited to put themselves in the shoes of a pharmaceutical company executive. The first challenge is to source the funding for developing a medicine that will treat a particular disease. “The player then has to come up with a cure - first creating a stable drug, then conducting a clinical trial and finally bringing the medicine to market,” explains John Pugh. Syrum follows the pattern of most social games, using a fairly simple design, with tasks that don’t need any special training. Syrum also offers a system of badges, levels and bonus cards. You can play the game on your own or with others. Players can get their friends in on the project, jointly develop or exchange molecules with them – or even steal their research!

Beta launch encourages players to help shape the game

The game is made up of several ‘chapters’, in each of which the user has to find a cure for a disease or a pandemic. To promote the educational side, scientific and historical information is made available in each case. The player can read it if s/he likes but it won’t spoil the game if s/he chooses to simply ignore the info.  The game has so far been launched in beta version outside the United States and Canada. Players are currently invited to submit their suggestions for improvements, many of which will then be incorporated into the final version. At the moment the Syrum game is being financed entirely from Boehringer Ingelheim Group resources – i.e. it carries no advertising.  However, if the game is eventually launched in the US, where the law allows marketing of medical treatments to patients, Syrum could become an ideal advertising channel for the Group.