Who Are Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) And Why Do They Matter To Pharma Brands?

Some medical professionals can make or break a product launch. These are the ThoughtLeaders (“TLs”, also known as Scientific Leaders or Key Opinion Leaders, “KOLs”): the experts who are published in medical journals, direct clinical development, sit on advisory boards, lead professional societies, chair guidelines committees, and speak at conferences and medical education.

They have earned the trust and respect of their peers and can influence perceptions in the clinical setting of a new pharma brand globally, nationally, regionally, and locally.

Clinicians turn to them for their unparalleled knowledge and experience in the indication of focus, and for pharma companies bring new treatments to market, they can be indispensable partners at every stage of the product life cycle.

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ThoughtLeaders can give you invaluable insights on brand positioning at this stage; they know how other physicians are likely to perceive your brand’s benefits and risks and where it fits into the market in relation to others in the same product category. It is key to embellish the inputs and feedback of the KOLs, with the voice of the clinician community for their daily clinical work and how the treatment will be adopted in ‘real world’ practice. One of the key differences between these 2 settings, is the typical willingness of the KOL to try new therapies and be excited about new modes of action for their scientific advances.

The experts also know the regulatory landscape for your treatment; they can identify regulatory barriers in specific treatment areas and ensure compliance and transparency in biotechnology and clinical testing. Pre-launch efforts should begin to engage regional ThoughtLeaders to establish conditions favorable to launch and support early treatment adoption.


ThoughtLeaders can accelerate a treatment launch, challenging misconceptions or misunderstandings of the product, presenting trial results at conferences and in poster presentations, publishing in medical journals and directly advocating for the treatment in their own digital networks.

Of special importance is the leverage that can be created from the podium at conferences and their role in media; not only do these experts attract audiences, their voice carries credibility developed over decades of focus on the indication(s). Local ThoughtLeaders should be engaged at launch to ensure complete market saturation and avoid pockets that fail to adopt a new treatment. It is important to recognize and work through the balancing act between the independency of the KOLs and the brand management’s needs for targeted communication.

Post Launch 

KOLs can advocate for a treatment and drive adoption later in the life cycle too, primarily by collaborating on marketing and communications. Many have thousands or tens of thousands of digital followers, subscribers and viewers, giving marketing teams access to large, captive audiences of treaters.

Marketing and commercial teams could, for example, involve the ThoughtLeader on content creation for medical blogs or websites and LinkedIn articles, or support them in developing media for other channels such as YouTube videos or TEDx talks.

Medical affairs teams will continue to work with ThoughtLeaders to further the clinical profile of the treatment through new clinical studies, education and analyzing feedback from the clinic through case studies and publications about the treatment in clinical practice. Clinical development will collaborate with the ThoughtLeaders on possible expansion of the treatment’s indications through new research, and also exploring new dosing forms for commercialization to lengthen patents.

Maximizing ThoughtLeaders’ Value

ThoughtLeaders can, then, contribute to brand success at every stage of the product life cycle. They remain vitally important to life cycle organizations, albeit with different roles and through multidisciplinary engagement, spanning many different organizational functions. With research from 2019 suggesting a sizable majority (75%) of pharma companies only engage ThoughtLeaders at phase III or later, could mean missed chances for collaboration, a sluggish launch of an approved treatment – and some untapped opportunities as well. And it is vitally important to have relevant, accurate, validated and current information on the ThoughtLeaders, which can pivot by functional discipline within the life sciences organization.

Start Early  

It’s never too early to begin mapping and engaging ThoughtLeaders. MDoutlook’s Lumineer™ platform proves to be critically beneficial to our clients’ medical and brand teams, helping them to map, understand and meaningfully engage the right KOLs at critical times in their product’s life-cycle. Let’s start a conversation to ensure your brand reaches its full potential.

How Medical Affairs Teams Can Hyper-Target Oncologists

Commercial and medical affairs teams need precision pharmaceutical insights and actionable intelligence to make confident business decisions. The global pandemic has altered medical education (promo and certified) and conference execution, making hyper-targeting even more important. Also, medical affairs and commercial teams should be planning for the return of in-person conferences. Whilst the importance of conferences such as ASCO, ESMO, and ASH are acknowledged, this mantle is shared more than ever today.

ESMO’s importance, in particular, has grown significantly in recent years, both in terms of size and diversity of audience as well as its reach as a global platform (e.g. more US healthcare professionals following ESMO online). In 2018, ESMO attracted nearly 28,000 attendees from 137 countries and over 3,000 submitted abstracts compared to 16,000 attendees from 127, and just over 2,000 submitted abstracts from the 2012 ESMO conference.

There has also been a noticeable rise in the importance of highly targeted disease-focused conferences such as EHA, IASLC, ICML, increased number of breakout meetings under the auspices of ASCO and ESMO (focusing on one cancer), and other similar scientific conferences with their increased importance as a platform for the dissemination of new data, meetings, exchange and reach to a global audience.

Hyper-targeting the right audience

With this in mind, medical affairs and commercial teams need reliable agency partners with winning expertise and experience in healthcare market insights, who know what it takes to master these trends. In a highly competitive space where hyper-targeting is essential, MDoutlook gives medical affairs the right mix of agile assets, value solutions, and professional customer access to drive successful precision engagement with your most relevant customers in oncology, hematology, and rare diseases.

Case study: Driving impactful outcomes through precision intelligence

As an example, at the 2019 annual meeting of the Association of Residents in Radiation Oncology (ASTRO), one of our clients was interested in recruiting very specific radiation oncologists (recruited to a very tight inclusion criteria) to an event at the congress to gain a richer understanding of their practices in a number of different tumor-areas and to collect real-world evidence (RWE). The interactive workshops proved highly successful and delivered deeper pharmaceutical insights on the current practices of radiation-oncologists across indications to create value across functions (marketing, market access, and medical affairs). And during the current pandemic situation, we have continued the engagement for our clients through Lumineer™ (our digital intelligence and engagement platform) with equal success. For the future, we envision hybrid, customized solutions to be organized more befitting clients’ needs and criteria.

During the conference season, we have been particularly busy helping medical affairs and commercial teams gain valuable pharmaceutical insights into their data presentations – as well as measuring impact – as can be seen from post-ASCO articles (clinical impact of ASCO presentations covering integration-of-new-treatment-regimens-in-CLL; novel-targeted-agents-for-MNSCLC and what-will-happen-in-NMCRPC and MHSPC.) published in partnership with OBR earlier this Summer.

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This work has included:

  • Connecting clients to the right cliniicians and experts through our validated community of 140,000+ treaters and 14,000+ ThoughtLeaders.
  • Answering tomorrow’s critical business questions today via DOCpulse™, our agile, adaptable and technology-driven solution.
  • Experience and expertise of our team that has won client praise and high satisfaction through offering hyper-personalized and impactful solutions.

Meet us (digitally and hopefully in-person soon)

Whether you are assessing the impact of data announcements or have another healthcare market research project in mind that requires hyper-targeting of your professional customers, we can enable medical affairs and commercial teams to achieve their goals, utilizing our proprietary assets and access to the world’s largest verified community of 140,000+ clinicians and experts in oncology, hematology, and rare diseases. This community is enriched through physician self-reported characteristics, and external adapters that are carefully and meaningfully applied through machine-learning and AI.

Let’s take your next step together by arranging a virtual meeting to scope out your future success!

For further discussion or to arrange a meeting, please contact [email protected] or call +1 404.496.4136.

Watch Our Video – Faster Richer Actionable Insights With Pulse Research  

Are you ready to make your market research investments go farther… a lot farther? If so, this 2-min video on DOCpulse™ from MDoutlook is for you.

DOCpulse™ enables your team to obtain valuable insights from ThoughtLeaders and clinicians fast via short, succinct, relevant and meaningful questions at their preferred time and utilizing their preferred communication channel – catching clinicians at their right time to garner valuable insights. As a subscription model, DOCpulse™ allows market researchers, insight managers and marketers to use the platform when needed, rapidly iterate research, inform timely decision-making, build knowledge and renew on demand.

Critically, your questions are answered by a known, validated and curated panel of clinicians that is already assembled. You know exactly which respondents are engaged with limited additional screening and can be confident about the insights delivered. There is no need to waste your valuable research time on lengthy and exhausting screening criteria.

Also, this smart on-demand micro-research approach respects clinicians’ time while yielding valuable insights. Finding the right input is priceless and should never be a one-off event! MDoutlook’s DOCpulse™ research makes it easy to stay connected and in tune with clinicians’ perspectives on an ongoing basis. Whether you are launching a new treatment or a new indication, or seeking to optimize an in-market brand, this two-minute video will share how DOCpulse™ can be a real difference maker, helping your team improve decision-making for more powerful results.

This video explains:

  • The key to nimble research
  • Making your research investment go farther
  • A research approach that meets your timelines and respects clinicians’ time constraints
  • How to build meaningful and lasting engagement with key clinicians and stakeholders
  • How to utilize pulse research to augment traditional research
  • How DOCpulse™ delivers high-quality, validated samples
  • Micro-trackers that provide in time tracking of brands and perceptions in ongoing waves
  • The power of immediacy, particularly in asking follow-up questions and informing iterative decision-making
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MDoutlook is the power behind life sciences brands, giving them tools and resources to achieve their full potential. we help brand experts, market research, and medical affairs teams make better decisions by providing market insights, clear answers on complex questions and actionable recommendations. Our game-changing digital reserach platform, DOCpulse™, delivers valuable insights to medical and commercial teams with best-in-class ThoughtLeader identification, engagement activation, and innovative custom insights to enhance better decision-making.