MSLs- The New Navigators of the Pharma Industry

Within the pharmaceutical industry dominates a sector that continues to be on the rise- the medical affairs sector. This is an environment that is welcoming change to accommodate the scientific and clinical support given to pre-launch and commercial products. It presents an opportunity to differentiate pharma companies’ services, provided to the patients, healthcare networks and the needs and wants of the stakeholders. It further allows room for a familiar governing body to reinvent themselves- the Medical Science Liaison.

At STRAMMER, we have identified medical affairs as the front-runner with great potential in creating strategies and innovation to improve the value of the overall system as well as patient-centered insights and the direct responsibilities throughout the entire product life cycle.

In the past, the idea of product development and marketing the product life cycle was not yet a synchronized thought. Each function was either operated under clinical management or commercial. The problem was cautiously raised when a series of apparent discrepancies occurred over development processes, scientific communications and other medical functions between the three management teams. Recent times still reflect the probable friction that exists among those teams, that is, the medical affairs, the marketing and the sales departments.

When it comes to proceeding farther with the medical affairs sector, however, it seems almost synonymous to speak about the Medical Science Liaison or MSL and their growing worth. MSL is the group of experts whose role is to enhance the scientific and medical reputation of a company and drug. MSLs work heavily on ensuring that products are fully maximized within the medical community and the internal colleagues at the company. Although the MSL community is still quite small compared to others in the pharmaceutical field, exponential growth is expected to come.

As the complexity of the pharmaceutical industry is never ceasing, consistent reforms in medical law and regulatory guidance have gradually allowed pharmaceutical sales representatives to be granted less access to healthcare providers (HCPs).  As a result, the numbers of MSLs have increased steadily with a growth of about 20% in the last 2 years across pharma, biotech, diagnostic companies, etc. This increase has now solidified the urgency for MSLs as their standard role has now diverted to a more direct and engaging method, which is done through providing conclusive medical information to HCPs and Key Opinion Leader (KOLs) in healthcare.

No longer is Medical Science Liaison’s role a one-way, rudimentary pattern where they operate solely as technical experts in the medical field. There is potential for MSLs to use their knowledge and expertise to secure long-term consultative relationships and connections with clients and customers. This is where the addition of professional assistance from firms like STRAMMER becomes an organisational necessity as systematic procedures and strategies can be put into place to help sharpen certain skills which have been otherwise overlooked.

In addition, the concept of outcome-based models will also embark on a different approach as the role of MSLs changes. Ideally, the objective is for consumers to take the initiative in their own healthcare by tracking their status and treatment outcomes using social media or other patient-empowerment platforms. Patient-centered outcomes duly focus on the patients’ opinions and needs in relation to the physician’s medical expertise. In fact, a study has confirmed that about 90% of patients admits that patient-centered outcomes have proven to be important to their healthcare experience. This will be most advantageous for MSLs as they are now able to shift from just connecting directly with medical professionals to associating precisely with patient advisory centers, henceforth, strengthening the concept behind patient-centered outcomes. In fact, with enough leverage, MSLs can conceivably have an influence on the type of medical drugs given to patients which can ultimately affect patient outcome-based data.

To adjust MSLs to a more representative role in the medical affairs sector, a series of mandatory soft skills will have to be adapted.  At STRAMMER, it is adamantly believed that through our talent management and coaching strategies, MSL’s performances can be impacted and reinforced, thus, delivering desirable outcomes. This can be done by improving:

Communicative Skills– the new role of MSLs require them to develop negotiation and representational skills, as well as be able to maintain a good relationship with their Key Opinion Leaders and other partners in the medical community. Also, strengthening written and oral abilities would be further essential when presenting to pharmaceutical and clinical teams.

Organisational Skills and Leadership Skills– As MSLs are now taking a more direct approach to ‘selling’ products, management skills, for example, taking charge to coordinate promotions, projects and efficiently networking among the community, must be generated. MSLs must show signs of leadership skills as well and be able to direct a team proactively.

Teamwork Skills– MSLs will need to develop analytical and adaptability skills that can increase agility among their team, making them function efficiently. This can be done through a team assessment procedure to determine individual skills and how best to allocate and utilize them accordingly, henceforth, reorganizing the internal structure and operations within the team. This assessment can further analyse personality traits, such as, attentiveness, dynamism, tenacity, responsiveness, etc. STRAMMER strongly believes in the importance of soft skills as it establishes and enhances existing attributes. As a result, it heightens some hidden skills needed in leadership roles.

To conclude, with the medical affairs sector progressing smoothly in recent years, the role of the Medical Science Liaison is persistently evolving alongside it. With an increasing number of products to be launched and with additional regulatory limitations still in effect, it is inevitable that the role of MSLs will continue to strengthen in the pharma industry. Henceforth, this ideally sets the platform for HR companies to recognize their great potential in the existing market and the extent to which they can contribute positively to its active growth.

References: 

  1. MSLs: The Superheroes of Pharma?, March 2019, Eye for Pharma 
  2. The Two Most Important Rules of MSL Compliance. March 2019, Monocl
  3. The Critical Role of Medical Affairs: Getting Fit For the Future, March 2019, OpenHealthGroup
  4. Medical Affairs 2025: The Future of Medical Affairs, August 2018, Kinapse 
  5. Medical Affairs: the navigator of pharma’s new world order, July 2018, PharmaTimes
  6. Reinventing the Role of Medical Affairs, March 2017, Bain & Company