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Mining Data to Gain a Competitive Edge

When gauging influence in oncology prescribing, membership in the “club” still counts

As the cancer therapeutics space grows more crowded, the task of identifying and building productive relationships with “key influencers” has become vital to a successful launch strategy.  Like everything else in oncology, performing that task is harder today. What was once an inbred club of clinical practitioners has morphed into a complex array of interests that, like an orchestra, has to be managed to filter out the discordant notes that depreciates the distinctive value of the asset.

How to address this challenge was one of the more interesting sidebars to this week’s annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology [ASCO] in Chicago.  In an exchange hosted by the data analytics vendor Cegedim Relationship Management, three prominent physicians – Peter Harper of St. Guys Hospital in London, Paris-based clinician Alain Hererra, and William Gradishar of Northwestern University – reviewed the climate for shaping opinions of the clinician community active in the treatment of cancers.

The consensus view is that simple peer group awareness remains the best way to determine key players in driving decisions on prescribing.  Documenting influence in the physician community is challenging because the acknowledged experts are often self-nominated.  There is no real metric that can certify such influence; it tends to wax and wane around the clinician’s level of engagement in clinical trials, development of practice guidelines, on line education and other activities that bear directly on treatment.   Organizational affiliation is important as well, with the larger academic/teaching hospital groups reinforcing the ranks of those who are deemed most influential.

In a follow-on discussion led by Cegedim subsidiary SK&A, the three physicians reviewed a data evaluation tool – Physician Connect – that contains information on some 24,000 physicians who as a result of detailed peer survey work have been identified by the profession as being “leadership influencers” in their respective areas of practice.   The survey pool incorporates input from more than 100,000 practicing professionals active in treating seven cancers/tumor types and eight malignancies in nine countries, including the US, Canada, the big five EU and Belgium and the Netherlands.  This exhaustive survey data is ranked, verified and standardized into protocols by a dedicated team of Cegedim staff at a network of research centers.

Physician Connect is able to shed new light for the industry in determining how physicians are treating and managing cancer patients; documenting the dense web of connections that help in selecting nominees for external scientific advisory committees; and – ultimately – who the profession actually relies on in setting new paradigms for practice,” Cegedim vice-president Marcus Bergler told Pharm Exec.  The company has plans to build the data base further into the hematology area and extend survey capabilities to additional country markets, including Japan and ultimately China.  Bergler said interest in Physician Connect is strongest today in Europe, where information on physician influencers is sketchy, disaggregated and under-resourced, despite the growing need of the local industry for better outside sources of support to counter payer pressures on access to oncology meds.

It is also important to filter this data in conjunction with the strong anecdotal input built through ongoing company-specific outreach initiatives.  Leadership status is often a consequence of simple name recognition. Successful leveraging of the Physician Connect tool depends on being able to make it synch with evidence that leaders in the field can spark a genuine change in the treatment paradigm. Determining that depends on supplementing data with practical market savvy and good judgment – horse sense, so to speak.

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