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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.