How to identify the right KOLs for pharma marketing

KOLs in pharma

Pharma companies know their drugs best. But getting your drugs to market and gaining credibility can be a difficult process. Word-of-mouth and recommendations from experts are what pharma companies need. Here’s where key opinion leaders (KOLs) in pharma have an important role to play.

Who are KOLs in pharma?

KOLs in pharma are healthcare professionals (HCPs) who are widely acknowledged, respected, and have extensive expertise in specific therapeutic areas (TAs) of the pharma industry. They are typically independent scientific and medical experts who provide advice to pharma companies on a wide range of activities, from drug discovery research and pre-clinical stages to clinical trials, approval, and market launch.

KOLs in pharma advantages

The role of KOLs in pharma market research

In addition to the above-stated advantages, pharma firms seek KOLs with expertise and experience in their target TAs, to help them with data interpretation and patient recruitment for clinical trials. When it comes to creating awareness about new drugs and therapies, KOLs are invaluable. They also provide credibility to emerging treatments across the medical community.

Further, a KOL can help educate physicians about how a particular drug works in the body, and which patient demographics can get the most out of it. They can also give information regarding treatment regimens and dictate their personal experience as early adopters of those therapies. As a result, creating a KOL engagement plan is crucial for brand acceptance, in the pharma industry.

The importance of KOL engagement

KOL engagement, also known as KOL management, encompasses the entire life cycle of identifying, assessing, and engaging with the appropriate KOLs based on company objectives, as well as arranging research and marketing campaigns involving them. KOL engagement assists pharma firms in supporting new product development, gathering data, refining strategy, and developing relevant, credible, and persuasive marketing messaging. KOL relationships should be built on mutual trust and a desire for long-term collaboration on both sides.

KOL engagement follows the same lifecycle as the company’s products, with an initial increase, a plateau, and a gradual fall in involvement. Pharma companies must ask relevant questions to discover whether a specific KOL’s present work is aligned with the company’s scientific and business objectives before proposing an optimal engagement approach.

Key factors to consider while determining the right KOLs for your organization

Considering the importance of KOLs and the need for tailoring pharma initiatives that engage them, it is imperative to accurately evaluate a KOL’s relative influence and TA expertise. The breadth and depth of a KOL’s involvement, brand adoption, and influence behaviors help determine a KOL’s strength and can be evaluated based on  the following criteria:

1. Therapeutic Area (TA) expertise

KOLs may have been named experts in a TA, have produced publications, presented at forums, spoken at peer-to-peer events, or have ties to prominent academic hospitals or disease state centers. Before beginning any engagement initiatives with a KOL, it is critical to understand their research interests, clinical and scientific literature contributions, and thought leadership contributions in medical groups and associations.

In oncology, for example, no single physician can be an expert in all subjects, tumor kinds, and biomarkers. As a result, community oncologists rely on professionals who specialize in a specific tumor or state to keep themselves up-to-date on new and improved diagnostics and therapies.

2. Knowledge about adverse medical cases

KOLs can specialize in complex diseases with a higher risk of relapse and need for subsequent therapy. For example, the identification and treatment of a relapsed/refractory rare lung disease is a lengthy process for patients, requiring the involvement of numerous clinicians. 

However, within the medical community, there are groups of physicians who are regarded as thought leaders by their peers. Their perspectives aid in the understanding and validation of current and emerging treatments for rare lung diseases.

3. Sphere of influence

KOLs may receive referrals or treat patients from across the globe (national, regional, and local) and affiliation boundaries. This strategic perspective is useful in creating additional KOL engagement and management activities.

4. Clinical trial expertise and participation

In some cases, a KOL may serve as the principal investigator (PI) for clinical trials or refer patients for trial participation. The PI organizes the clinical trial process, which is especially critical when numerous study sites are involved. As a result, the involvement of KOLs can be crucial in guaranteeing the success of the drug development process.

For instance, in oncology, thought leaders frequently launch investigator-initiated trials to experiment with alternative methods to use specific drugs in combination, to test their efficacy and usage.

5. Adoption of new therapies

KOLs may be early adopters of specific novel treatments and types of genetic testing (e.g., cytogenetic testing). Early adopters usually participate in clinical studies, gaining experience in a particular therapy area. They conduct an early appraisal of the drug and thus have a crucial role in the initial acceptance of the drug as well as influencing trials in general.

Find out how an oncology-focused pharma company was able to identify KOLs in their target TAs to build a panel of national experts across select ASEAN countries, by partnering with Netscribes.

The way ahead: Efficient KOL management in pharma

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the pharmaceutical industry’s dynamics have evolved, as have the dynamics of KOLs in pharma. Governments, academic organizations, and patient communities have been building more barriers around healthcare practitioners, limiting their autonomy and making it harder for pharma companies to gain access to them.

While laws such as the Physician Payment Sunshine Act, in the US, have already been in place, prompting pharma companies to report all exchanges of value to HCPs, the social distancing and quarantine measures imposed due to the pandemic have been limiting face-to-face interactions between physicians and company employees. This is ultimately reducing the pool of KOLs available to work with the pharma industry.

In order to deal with the changing dynamics of KOLs in pharma, while keeping up with the complexity of pharma treatments and digital disruption, robust KOL management plans are crucial for pharma companies. 

It also allows firms to identify KOLs with broad experience and competence in their concerned TA, as well as those with excellent networking connections, all at the same time. A KOL’s involvement during the early stages of a breakthrough treatment can produce a lot of buzz in the market and boost the treatment’s effectiveness.

However, identifying, retaining, and managing KOLs has always been a challenging task for pharmaceutical organizations.

How Netscribes can help

Any KOL management process should be supported by comprehensive and quality-assured data sources. Furthermore, the data is meaningless unless appropriate filters and analytics are used to generate meaningful insights. As a result, companies frequently seek the assistance of market research firms like Netscribes in the process.

Netscribes provides full-service pharma market research services to global firms across varied therapeutic areas. With experience working across more than 57 countries, 86 specialties, and 60 medical conditions and ailments, we couple local expertise with rich insight from carefully verified KOLs, including physicians, allied healthcare professionals, administrators, thought leaders, and payers. To know more about how we can help you, contact us today.

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