Guest Column | January 7, 2022

Are You Leveraging KOLs For Biopharma Market Access As Much As You Could Be?

By Kathryne Kirk, Meghan Cioci, and Matthew Franceschini, Guidehouse

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Pharmaceutical companies spend a lot of time and effort engaging and collaborating with key opinion leaders (KOLs), an exercise typically owned by medical affairs. But few take advantage of network mapping tools and relationship-building principles from a market access lens to help inform and shape coverage strategies and identify access champions for their products.

Potential prescribers are not the only ones who look to KOL thought leaders in their field to share perspectives on the clinical value of a novel treatment option. Payers also rely on physician KOLs to weigh in on the unmet needs of a particular disease and the clinical value of novel therapies (pipeline and approved) against the established standards of care. This is especially true in specialty and novel indications, e.g., rare diseases. Given healthcare’s trend toward evidence-based care, guidelines that provide recommendations on treatment pathways have become increasingly prioritized by providers, KOLs, and payers alike. Outside of KOL outreach, the role of KOLs in shaping guidelines is equally important given the trend toward evidence-based care. Thus, the evidence-based content in specialty society guidelines is becoming ever more important for market access strategy.

For pharma market access teams, engaging KOLs who help structure guidelines and downstream payer polices may be a high impact but untapped resource. From a medical affairs perspective, those same KOLs also may be instrumental in compliantly building provider awareness and uptake of a new therapy. By helping KOL clinicians understand the safety, efficacy, and points of differentiation of your therapies, they may be empowered to support a product’s inclusion in medical guidelines, for coverage, and for clinical use.

Given often limited resources, the key is narrowing the universe to those who are your therapy’s most important influencers. This can be done through network mapping analysis and tailoring your outreach efforts to help those influencers gain access to the compelling evidence and insights they may consider.

Leveraging Network Mapping

Clinicians who serve as KOLs in their fields often are seeking to advance the practice of their specialty. By working compliantly with innovators, they gain early access and firsthand knowledge about upcoming and new therapies that can potentially advance their practice areas. They tend to see their role as someone who can guide medical best practices among their peers, help patients gain access to the best therapies, and advise payers on differentiating these treatment options accordingly.

From a medical perspective, you may look at how prolific KOLs are in publishing in the space or how many patients they treat. However, for market access, a more comprehensive view of an individual’s broad influence as treatment guidelines developers, population health decision-makers, and payer advisers may shape and support payer engagement strategy.

For market access teams, the KOLs to target are those who are national subject matter experts, sit on medical guidelines development committees, have practical clinical experience, and proactively share information with their peers to improve medical care holistically. This is where network relationship mapping can be leveraged to efficiently quantify, qualify, and rank each clinician’s sphere of influence, voice in the community, and connections to their peers. Knowing that medical guidelines and specialty societies have substantial influence over coverage and coding decisions, respectively, network mapping can also help your market access team to narrow broad lists of providers to the most influential clinician influencers actively involved in writing and discussing updates to how novel therapies should be used.

Mapping Your Influencers

A multipronged methodology that leverages network mapping pulls together several influencer factors to rank KOLs, such as member lists from specialty society committees, claims volume data, publication activity via a database of references and abstracts, and peer-to-peer ratings to highlight those who are the most influential in their field.

For example, in a recent case, a biopharmaceutical company with a new therapy heading to market wanted to identify and engage with the most influential KOLs in their targeted indication. To bolster the company’s market access efforts, data analysts used an intricate process to identify which KOLs from a medical affairs perspective may also be relevant to engage from a payer advisory lens. This methodology included several metrics to rank the top influencers. In this process, they:

  • Collated findings from primary research with payers to build a foundational understanding of key factors for coverage decision-making in the indication;
  • Investigated Medicare and Truven Health Analytics claims to identify high-volume treaters, cross-referenced these to publication and podium presence, and mapped the results back to regional representation of health plans;
  • Examined the number of connections to peers (co-authorships) they had and the strength of those connections (volume of co-authored publications) within the overall network of people writing on this specific disease state; and
  • Developed a quantitative peer nomination survey to gather insights on who a community of KOLs viewed as the most impactful among their peers. The survey asked KOLs to rank at least five peers of their choosing on several factors, including participation in medical societies and guidelines development, knowledge-sharing within their community, and overall influence scores.

From there, the collected metrics were merged to form a composite score ranking on the sphere of each KOL’s influence and potential ability to disseminate information. For both market access and medical affairs teams, having access to these KOL profiles and rankings helps streamline and target outreach efforts to more accurately and efficiently reach those whose influence matters most.

For pharmaceutical manufacturers considering pre-launch KOL engagement strategies, broadening your payer strategy to include network mapping will help you reach the clinical experts who help evaluate and shape guidelines and policies. This targeted approach, done in parallel to medical affairs provider outreach, is essential to optimize patient access.

About The Authors:

Kathryne Kirk is an associate director in the Guidehouse Market Access Center of Excellence. She supports clients with optimizing medical policy coverage, targeting and engaging payers and KOLs, building distribution and trade strategy, and understanding price and payment policy considerations across sites of care.

Meghan Cioci is a senior consultant in Guidehouse’s Advanced Analytics and Intelligent Automation team. She specializes in data science and analytics and supports government and commercial clients.

Matthew Franceschini is a consultant in the Guidehouse Market Access Center of Excellence. He supports U.S. pharmaceutical manufacturers with market access landscape and competitor assessments, reimbursement strategy, value proposition communication, and launch planning engagements.