Facebook held a special breakfast for drug marketers about recruiting people for clinical trials

Key Points
  • Facebook brought drug marketers together to educate them on targeting consumers.
  • The company is going after an industry that's rapidly increasing its digital ad spending.
Facebook founder and chief Mark Zuckerberg receives the Axel Springer Award in Berlin on February 25, 2016 Facebook announced it was donating computer servers to a number of research institutions across Europe, starting with Germany, to accelerate research efforts in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning.
Kay Nietfeld | AFP | Getty Images

Facebook's ad sales team is hitting up the drug industry.

On Thursday, the company's New York-based health unit hosted an invitation-only breakfast for pharmaceutical marketers to learn about targeting users for their clinical trials.

CNBC viewed a copy of the invitation, which asked participants to attend a presentation on the company's "new clinical trials strategy."

Facebook is already widely used by clinical trial recruiters. The sector is a massive revenue opportunity for the company. Research firm eMarketer estimates that pharma and health-care marketers will spend $3.1 billion on digital advertising by 2020, up from $1.9 billion last year.

According to a person who attended Thursday's event, Facebook detailed how drug marketers can and can't target users. The source requested anonymity because Facebook did not make the details public.

Facebook's health team explained that users can't be targeted based on health conditions like insomnia. This is not limited to clinical trials.

Marketers can target people by demographics and their expressed interests, or likes. Millions of health groups have organically popped up on Facebook for people with a variety of health conditions, though marketers can't use that data in their outreach.

Some drug companies have been reluctant to use Facebook due to concerns that patients will share sensitive information like medical side effects and adverse events. Pharmaceutical companies are required to monitor and report these comments.

This wasn't Facebook's first event for drug marketers. CNBC reported in May that the company was hosting a summit the following month to pitch its platform as an alternative to traditional television and print media ads.