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By David Mendosa

Last Update: February 15, 2000

If you browsed the Web site last year, you saw a site that did a good job of explaining SmithKline Beecham's new drug for controlling type 2 diabetes. But if you haven't looked at the site yet this year, there's a lot more now.

Other sites have repurposed information.

Erin Brubaker, the senior product manager for Avandia in Philadelphia, is especially proud of the site's unique simulation of insulin resistance. Type 2 diabetes results from a combination of insulin resistance and decreased insulin secretion from the beta cells of the pancreas.

The simulation is an animation that begins by introducing the circulatory system of a person without type 2 diabetes who has just eaten. This person's body is sensitive to its insulin, so the glucose from the food enters the body's cells.

Then the animation continues by showing how the insulin in the bloodstream of a person with type 2 diabetes is locked out of the cells. Finally, it shows how Avandia comes to the rescue.

"Insulin resistance is not very well known, and it is very important that diabetes sufferers understand it," Erin says. "Our surveys show that if you know about insulin resistance and you are treating it, you will have lower blood sugar levels than those people with diabetes who don't understand insulin resistance. That makes sense, because if you are not treating insulin resistance, you are only treating the symptoms of diabetes."

Avandia (rosiglitazone maleate) is one of three new drugs in the thiazolidinedione class—TZDs or glitazones for short—that directly target insulin resistance. My two previous columns dealt with the other drugs in this class. The Food and Drug Administration approved Avandia on May 25, 1999, and SmithKline Beecham launched the Web site the same day. "We were very aggressive in going out there, because we know how powerful the Web is," Erin says.

But the simulation wasn't ready when they launched the site. Neither was Avandia's Online Blood Sugar Tracker. The tracker is a simple way to record your glucose test results and detect any changes or trends in your blood sugar levels.

"The online tracker is unique," Erin says. "There is nothing else out there on a product site."

You have to have a prescription for Avandia and register online for the Avandia/I Can program. Registration also brings you a six-month American Diabetes Association membership, including Diabetes Forecast magazine.

What Erin and her associates at SmithKline Beecham are trying to do at the Avandia site is make it stickier. That's the term Web experts use to describe their goal of getting viewers to come back again and again.

"Our focus is to add more interactive components to make sure that the site increases its stickiness and to make sure that we provide value to our customers," Erin says. A site can't do that just by repurposing information—to use another Web term.

"Until now a lot of the sites have offered information about the same sort of stuff that you can get in print, not taking advantage of the medium at all," Erin maintains. "A lot of them have repurposed information, and some are basically trying to keep the public informed on the latest press releases."

Still to come on the Avandia site is a patient support locator tool where you can type in your ZIP code and get a list of support groups near you. Also in development is a recipe area that can be customized for your preferences, like certain ethnic foods.

"We are also in the process of putting together a help desk," Erin says. Sometimes called live support, if you have some sort of problem with the site, you can get personal and immediate help.

None of these features were there last year when the Web Marketing Association awarded the site its 1999 Web Award for the Best Pharmaceutical Site. I'll bet Erin and her associates are already looking forward to the competition for this year's award. 

The American Diabetes Association originally published this article on its Web site as one of my “About the Internet” columns.

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