The relationship with a key opinion leader (KOL) should be a mutually beneficial long-term one. The earlier you can start this the better; firstly it takes a long time for trust to develop. Secondly, the input of KOLs is beneficial at all stages of a product’s lifecycle. Some companies claim to start their opinion leader programmes as early as the pre-clinical phase and most have some sort of opinion leader programme in place by the end of phase II. However, the main role of opinion leaders at this stage is to input clinical advice and their commercial input can be underestimated.
In an analysis in the US almost 90% of pharmacy companies claimed to have started their opinion leader management activities by the end of Phase II. There may be some wishful thinking here, but it shows the increasing importance companies are giving to starting early.
In the early stages the relationship will be mainly facilitated by clinical and the roles of the KOL will also be mostly involved with clinical aspects – advising on medical needs, and on studies as well as taking part in trials. Even at this stage however, the input of KOLs into such things as assessing market needs and competitive analysis is valuable. To get the most out of this early start, it is essential that there is good cooperation and communication between clinical and marketing. In the past, but thankfully less so now, so often there was too little continuity in the relationship with the result that valuable potential advocates developed in the trials process were ignored whilst marketing starts afresh with a new set of opinion leaders. Some of this was down to inadequate process but some was the result of selection of opinion leaders at an early stage with little or no regard to the needs of advocacy support at launch.
However, don’t despair if you’re only a few months away from launch, or even have an in-line product, even at this late stage you can establish strong relationships with opinion leaders; gain valuable advice; and cultivate advocates.
Joe and Neil Kendle