How to use publications to identify a KOL’s key research interests

There are many ways to identify Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) but to engage a KOL, one should understand that researcher’s areas of interest. Of course, it’s fairly easy to identify a general research domain, such as adrenergic receptors. Medical Affairs professionals (MAPs) who frame the value of their pharmaceutical product in terms of a specific research interest can realize an advantage over their competitors who have only a vague understanding of the KOL’s work.

One way to gain insights into the research interests of a KOL is to analyze key sections of peer-reviewed papers, posters, and presentations, including background, methods, and future research for salient information. Background sections describe previous work the KOL considers relevant. This can help understand the scope of the research topic. For virtually any research topic, there will be more relevant papers that can be included in a discussion of related research. Researchers tend to include work that has influenced their own work.

Background sections frequently contain references to work that tries to evaluate a similar hypothesis to the one discussed in the paper published by the KOL. There may also be references to review papers. These are particularly helpful because they summarize the state of knowledge about a particular topic at a point in time. Reviewing background sections of papers is also helpful to understand what the KOL considers important work in the field. Methods sections provide details on the types of experiments and clinical studies the KOL uses. With this information, a MAP can frame their presentation of a drug in a familiar experimental context, such as the effect of a drug on adrenergic receptors expression in endothelial cells. If the KOL leads clinical trials, then Medical Affairs professionals can frame the discussion around the impact of a drug on patients.

Methods sections can be quite detailed. Ideally, they should provide the reader with enough information to reproduce the experiment or assess the clinical trial. Fine-grained details, like how a sample is prepared or how a mass spectrometer is configured, are not particularly relevant to understanding the area of interest. MAPs will not miss any useful information if they were to skip over those details.

In publications, future research sections identify open questions of particular interest to the researcher. These make ideal points of discussion when engaging a KOL. They indicate the kinds of questions the researcher is interested in pursuing. MAPs can consider how the drug they are discussing is related to the future research questions. For example, is the drug’s molecular function related to one of the future research questions? Does the future research include an interest in the side effects of a competitive drug? Does the drug under discussion avoid those side effects?

When possible, make sure to review diagrams. These are often chock-full of information. They usually identify the most salient pieces of information in the paper or provide important background for understanding parts of the paper. Diagrams that show a signaling pathway or the relationship between pathways are especially helpful for understanding the mechanism of action of a drug or other stimulus.

Background, methods, and future research sections are commonly found in peer-reviewed journal papers. Medical Affairs professionals should not limit themselves to journals, though. Conferences offer an opportunity for researchers to disseminate information about their research more quickly. Conference proceedings are relevant to MAPs researching the interests of a KOL and should be consulted for the most up-to-date information.

KOLs actively involved in research publish their findings as part of the research process. These publications are a rich source of information about the KOL’s specific research interests and provide some insight into the direction they plan to take their research.