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Companies Are Broadening Their KOL Targeting

Drug companies are broadening their KOL targeting, reaching beyond specialists when targeting medical leaders to further develop their existing products.  Among 36 companies recently surveyed, nearly four-fifths targeted multiple types of key opinion leaders (KOLs): from specialists and subspecialists to primary care providers, preventative medicine practitioners and nurses.  The takeaway?  Companies’ understanding of the movers and shakers in the healthcare community is growing and no longer bound by the traditional understanding of who holds the most sway in the medical community.

A comparison of 2009 and 2013 data shows that specialists continue to represent companies’ preferred KOL targets (Figures 1.1-1.2).  However, a closer look also reveals that other types of healthcare providers are moving up in the ranks.  Categories such as subspecialists — once targeted by 34% of companies — are now targeted by 58% of drug companies.

The 2013 study also highlights new KOL types that were not reflected in the 2009 report.  Currently, at least 22% of surveyed companies recruit physician assistants.  Another 14% work with preventative medicine providers and still another 44% now recruit internists to support their clinical, medical affairs, and commercial activities.  In 2009, these healthcare provider (HCP) categories were barely registering on drug companies’ KOL target lists.

Thought Leader_KOL_Key Opinion Leader_Medical Affairs

Figure 1.1: Categories of Healthcare Providers Targeted as Thought Leaders – 2009

Part of this shift in recruitment strategy owes to companies’ willingness to look beyond previously identified KOL types.  As one biotech director explained, “There’s more people in the operating room than just the anesthesiologist and the surgeon.”  Dedicated KOL teams’ ability to research and identify other subject matter experts — and better understand the roles that these individuals play within the healthcare community — helps companies build robust KOL rosters.

Many companies are also incorporating the KOL perspective — drawing upon existing KOL connections to understand how these members of the healthcare community view their peers.  Leveraging KOL relationships equips companies with a more comprehensive evaluative metric — beyond gauging leaders’ potential based on individuals’ publication history and past clinical trial participation.  By understanding who KOLs view as influential, companies are beginning to recruit different types of talented healthcare providers not because of their title, per se, but because these HCPs are able to impact critical activities.

Sarah Ray
Senior Research Analyst


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[…] out how to adapt to and deal with increased scrutiny over and government regulation of payments to KOLs.  Today, the problem for most life science companies revolves around finding suitable and, more […]

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