Supporting Academic and Commercial Success – Lynn Nye, PhD, Strategic Thinker
Our team has developed successful KOL-driven educational initiatives in many different disease categories. The issues and goals differ, but the keys to success are always the same.
Recently, I was asked to give a talk about working with opinion leaders. The landscape is evolving. Everyone knows that. There are plenty of articles telling us about changes in federal policies and the caps on payments to physicians that are driving healthcare communications towards unbranded (“nonpromotional”) vs branded (“promotional”) education. Also, innovative, high-tech communication channels continue to evolve. So how are these changes affecting how industry interacts with opinion leaders? And what are the basics we still need to keep in mind?
Why work with opinion leaders?
Academia and industry—we need each other. Our different perspectives and skills have contributed to every major healthcare advance. Collaboration is the key to success throughout the entire product life cycle, from discovery and development through clinical trials and commercialization. Different opinion leaders provide valuable information at different stages.
Who is an opinion leader?
We’re all familiar with the term “key opinion leaders” (KOLs)—people who serve on professional committees and author treatment guidelines; they provide invaluable academic perspectives and educate the national and international community. Regional opinion leaders (ROLs), on the other hand, are usually practicing physicians, often with high-volume practices; their practical input on day-to-day practice is essential to understanding how products will be used and adopted.
There are also extremely knowledgeable opinion leaders in industry; they come from many different backgrounds―medicine, science, business. The industry opinion leaders (IOLs) have multiple perspectives, and fostering their interaction outside of their companies can generate very positive outcomes.
Consumers are emerging as the “new kids on the block.” Bloggers and patient advocates are powerful consumer opinion leaders (COLs). Concepts such as genetic profiling and individualized care, among others, are filtering down to patients, and the COLs can tell us what patients want.
KOLs, ROLs, IOLs, and COLs all play an important role in the development and adoption of innovative new products and treatment options that advance the standards of care in our rapidly evolving world. Working separately, we can develop good things; working together we can create amazing innovations!
What do opinion leaders say about working with industry?
Working in a communications agency, we often find ourselves in the middle between a commercial company and the opinion leaders in the outside world. We hear from both sides―sometimes about things that each side does not tell the other.
In contrast to people in industry, KOLs and ROLs often spend their entire working lives at 1 or 2 institutions and/or in their own private practices. They tell us it can be difficult to develop relationships with companies because, to quote a KOL, “They change people all the time; there’s a new product manager every 2 years.” So it’s important for our clients to remember to establish a longer-term point of contact.
Physicians form an opinion about companies based on their interactions with them. Also, opinion leaders interact with one another; they know what other opinion leaders think. If opinion leaders don’t have a positive experience, they may not want to work with a company again. So it’s important to approach relationships with a long-term view, being transparent but presenting goals and achievements in a positive light and bringing the right mix of people together when creating an advisory panel or working group.
Payment is another area with pitfalls. Rules and regulations are different in different institutions, but usually we can find a way to work together if we understand the other person’s perspective.
Payment-Related Quotes From Opinion Leaders – Click to View
[accordion-item title=”Endocrinologist, Johns Hopkins”]“If you are on a speakers bureau, you can’t give a presentation at Johns Hopkins.”[/accordion-item]
[accordion-item title=”Pain Specialist, UCSD”]“I don’t participate in speakers bureaus or give presentations on behalf of pharma because I am restricted in what I can say and how I can answer questions.”[/accordion-item]
[accordion-item title=”Oncologist, Mayo Clinic”]“I can’t sign a CDA until it has been approved by corporate.”[/accordion-item]
[accordion-item title=”Oncologist, Johns Hopkins”]“I can accept travel expenses but not an honorarium because it would be seen as a conflict by my ASCO committee.”[/accordion-item]
[accordion-item title=”Oncologist, NIH”]“I can give a presentation, but I am not comfortable with moderating an industry-sponsored event and I can’t accept any payment.”[/accordion-item]
[accordion-item title=”Oncologist, Memorial Sloan Kettering”]“I can help you with content, but my name cannot be associated with any projects that relate to specific products.”[/accordion-item]
How can academia and industry work together effectively?
The best collaborations are built on understanding and respecting the other’s perspective. Prior to setting up an advisory panel or developing an educational initiative, always take the time to interview individual participants in depth to make sure you understand their perspectives. That may sound obvious, but it’s surprising how often people forget to do just that. See our article on advisory boards in real-life.
Start with the end in mind, making sure there is agreement on the objective. Ask the question: “If at the end of this project you said ‘I am really happy we did this because…’ what would that reason be?” Select the opinion leaders with the knowledge and experience needed for specific tasks. And finally, no matter what the project is, remember to communicate with all participants on a regular basis—it’s a collaboration, and everyone needs to be on the same wavelength to be successful!