E-Pill Site Planned

The U.S. arm of British drug maker AstraZeneca PLC and ePhysician Inc. are expected to announce today a three-year agreement to promote the use of ePhysician’s electronic prescription-writing systems to doctors, Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal reported.

AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals LP (AZN) will provide at least 500 physicians with hand-held devices that run ePhysician, and cover the system’s monthly fee of about $40, said Stuart Weisman, chief executive of closely held ePhysician, Mountain View, Calif.

Under the deal, the system will provide doctors electronic access to detailed drug information from AstraZeneca. Initially, the alliance will target psychiatrists and Seroquel, a drug AstraZeneca markets for schizophrenia, in a six-month pilot scheduled to begin in June. The system will provide the company’s information only if the doctor requests it and will continue to offer independently produced reference material about other drugs.

Participating doctors will fill out surveys to help AstraZeneca determine whether use of the system is aiding efficiency and patient safety, and whether it affects their prescribing habits. The deal is an opportunity for AstraZeneca to “provide information at the point of care about our product in therapy,” says Richard Williams, vice president of U.S. e-business for the drug maker.

The deal, the latest in a series of pacts between pharmaceuticals companies and makers of electronic-prescribing systems, reflects a growing interest by drug makers in using Internet technology to market their drugs. Big drug companies have been slow to embrace the Web — partly because they haven’t seen a pressing need to make changes, in times of strong profits. But many now are creating e-business units and establishing venture-capital funds to invest in promising Internet firms. Executives of major pharmaceuticals companies gathered last week at the ePharm Summit in Philadelphia to discuss the role of the Internet in their industry.

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