Reflections on SMi Knowledge Leader Conference

Neil Mellor, business development consultant at Thought Leader Select, and Paul Meade, the company’s president and founder, attended SMi’s KOL: Knowledge Leader Partnerships conference on September 29 and 30 in London.  Neil sat down with the Thought Leader Select Blog to discuss his takeaways from the conference.

TLS Blog:  Neil, how was the conference in London?

Neil Mellor:  I found it quite interesting, and so did Paul—since we’ve grown the company over the last five years to include multiple European and global thought leader assessments, we thought it made sense to get a real sense of the industry’s thinking about what we do on the European continent.

TLS Blog:  What were some of the main points of discussion?

Neil Mellor:  Right now, there’s a pretty hot debate going on about the roles that health care professionals play in the development and launch of new medicines.  This conference even included a robust discussion on what to call them—it seems the European marketplace is evolving away from the term “key opinion leader,” with companies choosing instead to rely on what they call “external experts,” “opinion leaders,” or “thought leaders.”  It made us feel even better about the name of our company, that’s for sure!

TLS Blog:  Would you say that there’s a migration going on in the perception of the HCPs themselves?

Neil Mellor:  Well, yes.  The focal issue is the word, “key.”  As companies get away from the term, “key opinion leader,” it marks a real shift in wanting to bring in even more physicians and allied health professionals—nurse practitioners, physician assistants, registered nurses, pharmacists—in consultative/advisory roles.  While the use of the term “key” has a connotation of listening to the advice of just a few people, the more expansive terms like “thought leader” mean that companies will want to seek the advice of as many medical experts as possible when bringing new medicines to patients.

TLS Blog:  Did the various speakers give any advice to companies regarding this expansion of the advisory pool of thought leaders?

Neil Mellor:  Absolutely.  The consensus was that companies must remain competitive by first identifying the leading medical experts in a given therapeutic area, and then getting to know them by their skills and experiences as much as possible.

TLS Blog:  Were there any negative aspects of industry collaborations with external experts discussed?

Neil Mellor:   There were only a limited number of negative aspects to medical community collaborations with healthcare and pharmaceutical companies that we discussed in the sessions.  In one particular session, Dr. Fiona Godlee, editor-in-chief of the British Medical Journal, aired her views on how she thought physicians compromised themselves ethically by working with outside industries like pharma and biotech. After some discussion, she noted that the real key was even greater transparency, especially on the part of the physicians.

This discussion lined up well with a consensus that several factors, including the contraction of the biopharmaceutical industry—with consolidation, downsizing, and shrinking budgets—make interactions with leaders in the medical community more crucial than ever to bring new and better medicines to patients.  Fewer and fewer companies are using ad hoc decision-making with regard to collaborating with physicians and other HCPs. They are relying even more on companies like Thought Leader Select to provide independent, objective assessments of the skills and experiences of leaders in different therapeutic areas.

TLS Blog:  Any final thoughts on the conference?

Neil Mellor:  Again, it seems that transparency, while dictated by laws like the Sunshine Act, is offering a potential win-win here.  It’s going to protect the interests of both pharma companies and health care providers.  Nobody wants to see FDA or regulatory body sanctions and fines, and nobody wants to see careers threatened. When companies are working with the right doctors for the right reasons—and they have a partner like us with a proven, validated methodology for engaging professionals based on their skills and experiences in research, publishing, clinical practice, and a host of other areas—everybody wins.  Pharmaceutical companies bring new medicines to the market, doctors expand their horizons professionally and contribute even more to public health, and patients receive the treatments they need for whatever ails them.

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