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The Battle for Oncology KOLs


Companies are fighting for strong relationships with key opinion leaders-and Genentech is winning, hands down.

We all know the oncology marketplace has changed over the past five or so years; its gone from a relatively quiet and small marketplace, where only a handful of companies played to a battleground for share of voice and leadership among dozens of companies. 

That battleground is rapidly spilling over into the research and development arena, where companies are fighting for scientific leadership, patients, and most importantly, strong, collaborative relationships with Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs), including leading physicians who work as clinical investigators.

Market Strategies International’s 2009 study, MSImage: The Image of Oncology Companies Among KOLs, indicates that among 15 leading oncology companies Genentech is winning the battle for scientific hegemony and R&D leadership. 

Market Strategies surveyed 100 national and regional KOLs in January, and asked them to evaluate over 30 sales force, corporate equity (i.e., a company’s commitment to oncology and to supporting the work of KOLs), and R&D performance measures in order to determine which attributes drive company image among KOLs.

The KOLs in the survey are:

  • Regularly sought out by their colleagues for opinions or advice

  • Speak often at regional or national conferences

  • Have published articles in a major journal during the past two years

  • Consider themselves early adopters of new treatments

  • Help establish protocols for patient care

Our study showed that Genentech occupies a tier of its own, with a significant lead over Tier 2 companies Novartis, Amgen, Eli Lilly, Pfizer, and Sanofi-Aventis, Tier 3 includes Takeda/Millennium, Celgene, GSK, AstraZeneca, Bristol-Myers Squibb, and Roche. The companies in Tier 4 were Bayer Healthcare, Eisai, and J&J.

Genentech’s strong performance on the key driver attributes, those measures that are most important in driving perceptions of overall company performance, is responsible for propelling it into the top spot. In fact, Genentech ranks first on all six key driver attributes, with a significant lead over all other companies on all but one of the six. 
The six key drivers are:

  • The company is developing beneficial products

  • The company shows increasing strength in oncology

  • The company has an innovative R&D

  • A company that I can trust

  • Sales reps respect a physician’s time

  • Sales reps are knowledgeable about a company’s products

In addition to overall image, our study measures company performance across three dimensions: Sales Force, Corporate Commitment, and Product/R&D. Genentech has a statistical lead over all other companies in the Corporate and Product/R&D dimensions, as well as in overall image.

Companies that understand which metrics have the greatest impact on a KOL’s experience, and in turn perform well on those important metrics, will derive the benefits of a strong image performance. Those benefits typically drive a customer’s engagement behaviors toward a company.

Of the seven Product/R&D attributes, three are key drivers and the remaining four are entry tickets, i.e. foundational to a strong image performance.  The foundational Product/R&D attributes are those that enable a KOL to focus on his/her research, such as facilitating clinical trial participation, conducting clinical trials with dependable results, and keeping physicians current on research. 

Genentech and Novartis rank number one and number two respectively, on all Product/R&D attributes, with Amgen and Lilly competing for third place. Lilly and Pfizer both performed particularly well on the clinical trial-related attributes, but ranked only ninth and seventh, respectively, on innovative R&D.

Of the nine Sales Force attributes included in the study, five were found to be “value add” attributes, or those that provide additional benefit to the physician and his/her practice. 

Lilly’s and Pfizer’s strong performance on the Sales Force value add attributes, which focus on a rep’s expertise, long term relationships, and responsiveness, helped propel these two companies into the top five; while AstraZeneca’s poorer performance contributed to its overall 10th place image ranking among KOLs, in stark contrast to its fourth place ranking among community-based oncologists. 

Within the Corporate Commitment dimension, “company I can trust” is a key driver among KOLs, while a strong reputation in oncology and providing valuable information at conferences are both value-add attributes. Despite its relatively poor performance on “company I can trust,” Amgen’s strong reputation in oncology and partnership with KOLs account for its third place ranking on this particular dimension and third in overall image. 

For a company to lead in Oncology among KOLs, it must obviously be a top performer in product development and innovative research, while at the same time having sales reps with extensive knowledge.  Companies that can differentiate themselves on these measures, while at the same time providing a positive experience to KOLs, will emerge as image leaders. 

That Genentech has emerged as the leader in oncology among KOLs is due to its image as an innovative, science-driven company that delivers both valuable and objective information, while supporting KOL research needs. And while delivering on the science is critical, so too is providing a positive customer experience across a multitude of touch points.

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