Medical students in lecture; KOL identification concept

Streamlining KOL Identification: 3 Tips for Medical Affairs Teams

Key opinion leaders (KOLs) play an important role in clinical research and in the development of medical therapies, making accurate KOL identification a necessity.

In fact, KOLs are so crucial that finding the right person, whose influence and expertise levels are high within a given disease community, can help your organization succeed in a product launch or an early-stage clinical trial.

What Role Do Key Opinion Leaders Play in Clinical Research and Drug Development?

The ideas provided by KOLs give context for scientific findings, and their opinions help foster trust for promising new discoveries. That’s why connecting with these folks is so crucial within the medical affairs function.

Knowing whom to connect with, however, is much easier said than done. It’s not always clear whether a specific KOL is the right person to reach out to given their own professional interests, their spheres of influence, and their own personal networks.

Parsing that information is Step 1 in building a relationship with a KOL. Below are three tips to speed up the process of KOL identification.

Aligning KOL Identification With Your Organization’s Objectives

A KOL is only a good fit when their own research and interests align specifically with what you’re working on, whether that’s a product launch, an investigation into new uses for an existing therapy, or an early-stage clinical trial.

The key is to be precise in whom you target.

With that as your North Star, you can begin to search via specific parameters — e.g. whether that person has published in authoritative journals on a specific topic, whether that person has a leadership role in a relevant organization, or whether that person has previous experience as a KOL.

The team at ExtendMed has some next-step questions to help you zero in on the right KOL:

  • “What are all of the groups you need to solicit to get the insights you need to accomplish your objective?
  • “Are there groups who act as influencers to these primary groups, and how could you bring them into the discussion?
  • “Would it be best to talk to those groups separately or together? (Perhaps there’s a benefit to having, for example, healthcare providers together with insurers or patients with caregivers given your objective.)”

Don’t be shy about getting tactical here, either.

Medical affairs professional Dr. Patrina Pellett gives a helpful example of what this could look like: “You are approaching launch for a molecule with a similar mechanism of action (MOA) as a top competitor [so] start building a list of KOLs that have experience with the MOA and those that are skeptical of it.”

Doctor giving a speech on a stage at a conference; KOL identification concept

Take the Guesswork Out of Calculating Each KOL’s Level of Influence

Once you have a list of promising KOLs, you can vet that list according to how influential each KOL is within the audiences you need to reach.

Dr. Aoife O’Dwyer, who founded the website, has a useful rubric that you can work from:

  • Three points for people who write clinical or therapeutic guidelines.
  • Two points for people who have been invited to speak at relevant international conferences.
  • Two points for board members of key stakeholder groups.
  • One point for first or last authorship on a relevant publication.
  • One point for being invited to speak at relevant local conferences.
  • One point for a quote in relevant media.

If the person has more than six points, “they are highly influential,” O’Dwyer says.

Equip Yourself With the Right Instruments for Visualizing the KOL’s Influence and Network

After analyzing someone’s level of influence, it’s time to map their sphere of influence, which requires a more complicated calculation because this means understanding the number and the quality of a person’s connections.

“KOL influence is one of the more established qualitative metrics in Field Medical,” Nancy Ortiz, Deborah Crawford, Irma Kerliu-Saliu, and Eleonora Goldberg write for the Medical Affairs Professional Society. “Simply, a close relationship with a highly cited clinician-scientist is likely to do more to help a Field Medical team reach its goal of improving patient outcomes than a relationship with any single HCP.”

A given disease community could have thousands of people in it, from patient advocates to researchers to healthcare providers. A KOL with years of experience in that field could have hundreds or thousands of first-degree connections within that community. Mapping that network of connections, and the strength of those connections, is impossible without the help of machine learning.

This is where a tool like Anju’s TA Scan is helpful. Our software:

  • Monitors publications and presentations to identify both commercial opportunities and competitive threats.
  • Measures and ranks KOLs according to a proprietary scoring system.
  • Maps and visualizes the connections between KOLs so you can see at a glance how relevant an association is.

Medical affairs today relies on these kinds of data-based insights to connect the right opinion leaders with the most relevant research.

To learn more, request a demo today.

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