A 3 minute read
September 11, 2019

When pharmaceutical companies are looking for new clients, they rely on key opinion leaders to act as influencers to their peers and the general public. A key opinion leader (KOL) is generally an experienced physician trusted to give candid feedback to pharmaceutical suppliers. They are also knowledgeable about industry news, clinical trials, and other developments relevant to their specialties.

Most often, these thought leaders and industry experts are sought out during the late stages of drug development as consultants for marketing messaging and go-to-market strategy. Because KOLs have demonstrated expertise in specific fields, their perspectives are trusted and sought out at all phases of new drug development and distribution. Below, we’ve outlined some of the ways in which KOLs contribute to pharmaceutical go-to-market processes.


Fig 1 Image from Commetric.com.

Research and discovery

During the early phases of drug research and development, KOLs are consulted in several capacities. The first is identifying research areas. Physicians are on the front lines of patient care, and have unique insight into diagnosis and procedure trends, as well as which treatments are most and least effective for various patient populations. Similarly, KOLs can offer insights on disease areas.

If a KOL has seen sharp increases in the number of hospital-acquired infections (HAIs) within a 12-month period, that can give pharmaceutical companies a research area to target. These physicians can also give more specific insights on whether sepsis is becoming more prevalent than MRSA. Offering information on detailed disease areas can be more useful than a general population health issue.

Drug companies can also request that KOLs carry out research on their behalf. If physicians know HAIs are on the rise but are not sure which disease area is most prevalent, the KOL could track such information and report it back to the pharmaceutical company.

Clinical trials

KOLs are consulted during multiple phases of a clinical trial. During initial trial development, a KOL can serve as a consult on the program design. This can involve choosing the proper patient populations, alerting trial runners to observed comorbidities, or adding input for the length of a study.

This can also include advising on the product profile. If a company is testing a drug for patients with diabetes, a physician KOL could suggest that the treatment address kidney function as well hyperlipidemia. Physicians would have greater insight into patient comorbidities than drug companies and could help develop a treatment that addresses multiple symptoms simultaneously.


During the drug approval process, KOLs can advise on the regulatory process. It is likely that physicians and other opinion leaders have gone through the drug approval process before and know what to expect. This can help a pharmaceutical company preempt any objections to a new drug and be as prepared as possible for the rigorous expectations.

Physician KOLs can help provide information on drug effectiveness and other benefits. Because these opinion leaders have likely been involved in the research and trials phases, they understand and can speak to the applications of a new drug. KOLs can also provide insight into how the new drug differs from existing treatments on the market, which can facilitate the approval process.

Post-approval and distribution

Finally, once a new drug is approved, KOLs can build product awareness in their specialties and throughout the wider medical community. Opinion leaders who were involved in the clinical trials and testing phases can publish articles or papers in medical journals and online publications that explain the benefits and applications of the new treatment. Early adopters can leverage these resources to persuade their facilities to use a new drug and contribute to the conversation.

KOLs can also give presentations at congresses, promoting their findings and use cases to other physicians and physician leaders. This is a great way to build a solid base of early adopters and attach faces and personalities to a treatment, building reputability in the medical community.

Finding key opinion leaders

Key opinion leaders are primarily physicians, but not always. Other stakeholders in the pharmaceutical development process can also be KOLs, including patient advocacy group members, journalists, academic research teams, politicians, and other individuals with demonstrated advanced knowledge of specific therapy areas. In the U.S., physicians are falling in popularity while KOLs and healthcare payors on the local and national level are gaining more power as stakeholders and consultants.

So how can you find physician leaders for your research and consulting needs? Definitive Healthcare tracks more than 1.6 million physicians and allied care professionals, including more than 8,600 key opinion leaders specializing in rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s Disease, cancers, mental health, respiratory diseases, and other therapy areas.


Fig 2 Image is a screenshot of the search function in Definitive Healthcare’s physician platform. Users can select whether they would like to search specifically for physician KOLs and narrow their search by therapy area and indication.

For more information on how you can leverage this data, start your free trial today!

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Taylor MacLeod

With a strong foundation in both the clinical and research sides of the medical field, Taylor has used his experiences to help life science companies hone in on their sales and marketing strategies. ...

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