Strategic KOL engagement planning is essential for pharmaceutical companies to ensure an effective, efficient and sustainable relationship with KOLs. Considering the increasing complexity of the pharmaceutical environment and company organizations are essential to plan and organize the interactions with KOLs.
Thus, pharmaceutical companies should develop KOL engagement strategy plans as a best practice to ensure optimal KOL relationships for developing business.
But what services can pharmaceutical companies provide to KOLs to improve interactions, and also what are the KOL expectations?
Cooperation between Medical Affairs or MSLs with KOLs during clinical research is a prominent and scientific activity across product development. Actually, financial support, scientific support, or even product support are the conventional services pharmaceutical companies offer to KOLs.
Getting KOLs involved in trials early also means that they are given the opportunity to develop a sense of ownership throughout the ups and downs of the drug development process. Early involvement of KOLs is becoming the rule across all therapeutic fields. Identifying the perfect KOLs to embark on this long-term journey is therefore even more vital than before. MSLs need to understand the R&D process on a deeper level to better support company research needs and identify KOLs who are ideal partners.
Medical Advisory Board
Although the majority of medical advisory boards are initiated by pharmaceutical companies, they are sometimes organized by publication companies or other third parties, such as sponsored or non-sponsored medical societies or by medical communication companies. Advisory boards may cover on-label or off-label use of the company’s products. The primary goal of medical advisory boards is to seek clinical knowledge and understanding that will inform internal medical strategy and foster enhanced patient outcomes through this joint effort.
Usually, the information collected during a medical advisory board meeting is later shared with peers and other healthcare stakeholders to achieve better patient outcomes.
Disease State Awareness
Non-product-specific, non-accredited education programs focusing on disease state awareness are some of the most recent additions to pre-launch pharmaceutical marketing. These programs target both providers and consumers and serve as an important part of a company’s mandate in helping the system understand diseases that until recently have few treatments such as Diabetes, Hypertension, and Iron Deficiency. KOLs can proactively advocate for disease awareness utilizing services that medical affairs or MSLs provide and also MSLs can compensate KOLs for these services when a consulting agreement is established. During COVID-19 Pandemic digital services have become the best practice for the disease state awareness efforts.
FDA holds the medical affairs department to the same standards as it does sales reps. It’s important to keep from blurring the lines between promotion and responses to unsolicited requests., Tom Abrams, Director of FDA’s Office of Prescription Drug Promotion (OPDP). MSLs should not share specific details of the discussion, especially if it contained any unpublished off-label information.
In an era of global exchange of medical information, this approach to physician prescribing practices may have greater utility than restricting practices solely to indications approved by a US-based pharmaceutical labeling system. Health care professionals should continually educate themselves about OLDU (off-label Drug use) to weigh the risks and benefits and provide the best possible care for their patients.
MSLs scientific exchange discussions with KOLs about off-label indications or products could stimulate ideas related to KOL research and development processes. Sometimes off-label discussions might lead to achieving better patient outcomes.
One goal that the KOLs want is to capture attention and prestige within their professional community and medical congress affiliations. As a result, many KOLs are academically driven. Being informed about how a new product can fill a gap in treatment and, in turn, being able to inform the rest of the medical community about that product through peer-reviewed and consensus articles, therefore holds appeal. The conferences and congresses where physicians present papers and posters are excellent forums for both physicians and industry.
We review some important services that may be carried out by pharmaceutical companies for KOLs, but what are the expectations of KOLs from pharma companies?
One way is to achieve small commitments during the time to get KOL’s attention for the bigger opportunity in the future. The KOLs themselves should be part of the development process and Medical Affairs make an engagement plan for all KOLs separately, therefore the completed plan should be accessible to internal stakeholders to ensure transparency.
-Genuine involvement & meaningful partnerships
Develop an individual engagement plan for every KOL; this master plan lays out a comprehensive picture of what the KOL’s responsibilities are, who within the organization interacts with the KOL, and how the results of the KOL engagement are measured. The KOLs themselves should be part of the development process and the completed plan should be accessible to internal stakeholders to ensure transparency.
-Credibility and commitment to patient care
Patient care and patient support are the disciplines of all KOLs; they are committed to their patients even for charity and financial issues. Therefore, do not forget about caring for patients. To secure KOL support, companies need to prove that they are adding value to physicians’ practices by bringing more benefit to patients. “KOL engagement is about practice enhancement. MSLs may interact with patient advocacy groups to gather important insights into patients’ concerns and needs unless prohibited by local laws or regulations.
Patients are increasingly using social media to obtain medical information and this platform is playing a more significant role in highlighting patients’ points of view.
MSLs can present relevant scientific information to patients and patient advocacy groups in a manner that they can easily understand. MSLs can engage with patient advocacy groups by employing multiple channels, including social and digital media. MSLs should follow their company’s policies on the appropriate use of social media.
KOLs prefer long-term engagement and continuing their relationships with commitment. Reaching the ultimate goal of KOL engagement, building a long-term, mutually beneficial relationship, requires a comprehensive plan, measurable objectives, and alignment with all cross-functional team members and the KOLs. Having repeated frequency of engagement helps build rapport and advance KOL relationship development.
-Be well-prepared and respectful of KOL time
Well-planned meetings with clear agendas that start on time and provide new information, data and insight in a clear, concise way show the KOL that you value their time and input. This makes them more likely to dedicate their own time and engage in a meaningful way. Respect also brings trust to the relationship. Both are essential to advance relationships toward beneficial partnerships.
Embracing your KOL’s feedback shows them that their input is valued which goes a long way towards keeping them engaged and motivated to actively participate.
KOLs are highly trained, successful professionals who are looking to gain insights and professional opportunities from their interaction with pharmaceutical companies. What drives individual KOLs, however, can be very different and range from exciting opportunities in clinical research, e.g. investigator-initiated studies, publications, high-profile speaking engagements, and teaching opportunities to name a few.
Making sure a KOL’s interests and needs are met creates a strong incentive for them to stay actively involved and engaged.
Take home message: A good plan is to achieve the goal of making KOL advocacy for your product or company even without your presence.
- Adapted from GBI Research, Market Rx, by Smart Pharma Consulting
- Arx Research (2017) – Smart Pharma Consulting analyses
- Christopher M. Wittich, Christopher M. Burkle, William L. Lanier, Ten Common Questions (and Their Answers) About Off-label Drug Use, Mayo Clin Proc. 2012 Oct; 87(10): 982–990. doi: 10.1016/j.mayocp.2012.04.017
- https://www.h1.co/blog-posts/blog-2018-11-3-the-importance-of-kols, Ariel Katz
- Medical Science Liaison Guidelines 2018
- Namrata Singh and Ritu Sharma, Volume 25 Number 4 | Medical Writing December 2016
- Roche internal documents (2015)
- Smart Pharma Consulting, May 2019
Omid Salemi, Ph.D.
Currently, Cardiovascular (Heart Failure) and Patient Blood Management (PBM) MSL Lead of the Barsian Darou (Vifor Pharma) in Iran, Tehran. I have worked as an MSL in Hematology, Gastroenterology, and women’s health, for Anemia, Iron Deficiency, and Anemia of Chronic disease therapeutic areas, also the collaboration of implementing International Iron Deficiency Day awareness in Iran.
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