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November 8, 2023

How to reveal the invisible college and pull away from competition

How a hidden network of experts can support your strategy with directional insights.
what is the invisible college

You might have come across the term ‘invisible college’ in life science, perhaps about key opinion leaders (KOLs) and their sphere of influence. But what is the invisible college, and why is it important in helping you better understand disease communities? Beyond that, how can tapping into the invisible college support your strategy and answer key business questions?

The original invisible college

The idea of the invisible college – and indeed the term itself – seems to date to the 17th century. Before the founding of the UK’s Royal Society, a group of like-minded natural philosophers led by influential chemist Robert Boyle would meet to exchange ideas and encourage experimentation.

Revealing new experts can uncover new market opportunities.

As this ad-hoc society wasn’t associated with any one academic or professional body, they called themselves ‘The Invisible College.’ This group’s independent collaborative spirit stood out at the time and has allowed the concept to endure.

What is the invisible college in life science?

In recent years, the term has a new application in life science. It refers to groups of HCPs and experts who, like their 17th-century forebears, aren’t affiliated with any company or institution. Where the original invisible college would hold face-to-face meetings in London or Oxford, their modern equivalents are connected via the internet. The networking power of social media allows like-minded experts from all over the world to communicate and share ideas – and to exert their influence throughout global disease communities.

Why should this modern invisible college matter to you and other life science leaders?

“Looking for insights is really a form of networking,” says Tony Page, Senior Vice President of Insight Analytics at Within3. “And when we’re networking, we all know that it’s not necessarily what a person knows, it’s who they know – who they’re networked with, who’s at the center of an activity.” These connections are important in a competitive market, especially when several pharma companies are vying for time with a small group of top experts.

Traditional profiling analysis shows experts ranked by volume of activity.


What makes the life science invisible college so unique is that highly influential experts aren’t always – or even usually – the most obvious candidates. Life science teams frequently build their engagement lists based on publication data and will return to those experts who publish the most frequently or speak most often at medical congresses. But these individuals aren’t necessarily the true trust brokers within a disease community – those people who wield the most influence among peers and patients alike. For that, you need to look to the invisible college.

How to reveal hidden key experts

The contemporary invisible college is called invisible for a reason. There’s no campus, no alumni list, no simple way to find these influential experts and engage them. To find these experts, you’ll need technology.

With traditional profiling analysis, you might generate a list of the top physicians ranked by publication volume. These will likely be the same experts you’ve encountered dozens of times. Your competitors are also tapping into this same pool of experts, making it difficult to access new or original insights. With network analytics, you can uncover the hidden experts within a disease community.

“We use analytics to figure out who is networked around a defined disease area. The result is a different group of people than you would get if you just took a list of prolific authors and sorted them by number of publications, which is what a lot of people do.”

“You’ll get a list that is about 50% different because we’re looking at connections and networks rather than just individual contributions,” says Page. “We’re looking at people as part of a community rather than looking at people in isolation based on their own narrow body of work.” Within3 network analytics considers data from different spheres – scientific data, medical claims data, and social listening data. “By looking at a group from many different angles, you can home in really precisely on the people who are most relevant to what you’re trying to accomplish.”

Network analytics maps the strength and volume of connections in highly specific contexts.


What can the invisible college do for you?

Uncovering these so-called hidden experts has value for life science teams across the product development process. One key benefit is gaining access to important thought leaders who competitors don’t recognize. “In almost every case, clients will say – I’ve heard of this person, but I never realized they were someone I should definitely be engaging,” says Page. “People who are easily recognized are most sought after because they’re the most obvious, [but] people who are equally important, if less obvious, are more accessible and more available to engage and to support whatever activities the client is trying to move forward.”

“The term invisible college does accurately represent the fact that these individuals are undetectable – they’re invisible to any other methodology than network analytics because you’re evaluating connections that are not apparent when you’re looking at resumes.”

Building a complete understanding of your disease community landscape starts with expert identification, and an insights management platform holds the keys to your invisible college. Read our ebook to learn about digital opinion leaders and how they may fit into your disease community landscape.

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