Thoughts on Global Medical Affairs
The importance of KOLs in achieving medical affair’s goals was discussed in the Introduction. Left open was the question of how are these KOLs identified. There are a number of different approaches to identifying KOLs and in this post I will review those approaches and discuss their strengths and weaknesses. I will also look into the vendors that can support KOL identification.Per
In the past, the standard approach for KOL identification was to hire good Medical Science Liaisons (MSLs) from various regions and rely on their Personal Networks to identify the right KOLs in their region.
This Personal Network approach has some strengths:
The Personal Network has some significant weaknesses:
The Personal Network approach is most effective in a very small, highly technical specialty medical community setting. In these types of communities, since there are so few people involved, everyone knows everyone in the community and the risks of the Personal Network approach are mitigated.
The next most common approach is the use of Secondary Research networks. Secondary Research networks are developed by gathering information that is publically available about potential KOLs for secondary sources. Information that is publically available may include:
The list can go on. This information is collected; each piece is given a weight based on the what is perceived to be likely to contribute to their being a KOL. The weighting produces a combined value which is then used to identify an individual as a KOL.
The Secondary Research approach has strengths:
The Secondary Research approach has some weaknesses:
The Secondary Research approach works best in therapeutic areas that are fairly static and dominated by academicians. In these types of environments, there is a strong correlation between age and importance and between academia and practice.
The third approach to KOL identification is Primary Research. The Primary Research approach identifies who is a KOL by polling the physicians treating a disease state and directly asking them who influences them. These responses are then tabulated and the names of those individuals cited the most are given the most weight and are thus considered KOLs.
The Primary Research approach as its strengths:
The Primary Research approach also has weaknesses:
The Primary Research approach is the best approach for less established disease states, less academically driven disease states and for any groups looking for less well established KOLs.
REAL LIFE EXAMPLES
Any of these three approaches may work, and they are often used in combination.
For example, I had a client who was entering a new disease state and thus needed to establish their MSL group from ground up. During the initial six months, as the MSLs were coming on board and being trained, the company allowed each MSL to use their Personal Network. Once the group was fully formed, they worked with a vendor to conduct a Secondary Research analysis of the community and create the initial list of KOLs to be targeted. After the MSLs had been in the field for six more months, they identified a related set of potential KOLs that the Secondary Research had not targeted, and they commissioned a targeted Primary Research effort to identify all the KOLs in this new group.
I have had other clients that used the Primary Research approach to develop their initial list of KOLs then used the Secondary Research approach to continue to track those KOLs and ensure that their staff was fully up to speed on their activities.
Some vendors that support these types of research include:
In my next post, I will discuss how these KOL interactions should be managed.
As always, I am curious to know your experience with KOL identification. Please leave comments below.