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Medical science liaisons - A look to the future

  • Medical Science Liaison Institute

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Medical science liaisons (MSLs) are the pharmaceutical company’s clinical representatives who interface with thought leaders and other key healthcare decision makers. The authors offer a description of the strategically important characteristics of tomorrow’s most valuable MSLs. Journal of Medical Marketing (2008) 8, 193–197. doi:10.1057
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© 2008 Palgrave Macmillan Ltd 1745-7904 $30.00 Vol. 8, 3 193–197 Journal of Medical Marketing 193
Peter Dumovic
Novartis Pharmaceuticals
One Health Plaza,
East Hanover,
NJ 07936, USA
Tel: + 1 862 778 8685
Fax: + 1 973 781 5209
e-mail: peter.dumovic@
Field-based medical science liaison
(MSL) teams play a critical role in the
provision of accurate, balanced and timely
scientifi c and medical information
to key healthcare practitioners.
1 These
highly trained scientifi c professionals are
able to harvest clinical insights from
thought leaders throughout the entire
lifecycle of pharmaceutical and
biotechnology products.
2 This in turn
allows MSLs to foster compliant,
collaborative relationships with various
internal stakeholders.
In most companies, MSLs report into a
Medical Affairs Department, and MSLs
usually have advanced degrees in a
scientifi c or medical discipline. While MSL
responsibilities can differ from company to
4 a consistent focus is to build
scientifi c excellence and help to advance
patient care.
1 MSLs interface with the
medical and scientifi c communities to
engage in the exchange of scientifi c
information. Activities typically include
supporting clinical trials and facilitating
knowledge exchange between the
company and medical thought leaders and
other key clinical decision makers.
5 As the
pharmaceutical industry has evolved, MSLs
have also engaged in other activities,
including the provision of relevant disease
state and pharmacoeconomic information,
as well as support of internal company
initiatives and training functions.
Furthermore, MSLs have increasingly
become involved in other aspects of the
pharmaceutical business, for example,
facilitating preclinical research and
supporting business development efforts.
Market Analysis
Marketing Masterclass
Medical science liaisons:
A look to the future
Received (in revised form): 1st May, 2008
Peter Dumovic
is Head of Medical Information & Communications at Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation, and is the North American Editor of
the Journal of Medical Marketing . He has an extensive breadth and depth of pharmaceutical industr y experience in Marketing,
Sales, Clinical Research and Development, Key Opinion Leader support and New Product Development.
Jane Chin
is President of Medical Science Liaison Institute, LLC and founder of the Medical Science Liaison Quarterly . She has
pharmaceutical industry experience in Analytical Research and Development, Sales and Key Opinion Leader support.
Keywords medical science liaisons , thought leaders , best practice , recommendations
Abstract Medical science liaisons (MSLs) are the pharmaceutical company s clinical
representatives who interface with thought leaders and other key healthcare decision
makers. The authors offer a description of the strategically important characteristics of
tomorrow s most valuable MSLs.
Journal of Medical Marketing (2008) 8, 193 197. doi: 10.1057/jmm.2008.12; published online 6 June 2008
Journal of Medical Marketing Vol. 8, 3 193–197 © 2008 Palgrave Macmillan Ltd 1745-7904 $30.00
Dumovic and Chin
Thus, as Table 1 illustrates, the
constellation of MSL responsibilities may
be generally categorised as: research,
education or other.
As MSL programmes have become a
staple in the pharmaceutical industry,
metrics appropriate to this fi eld function
have also become increasingly important.
MSL programmes are often challenged
to demonstrate their value to their
7,8 Quantitative metrics are
poorly refl ective of true MSL contribution
to the organisation. Measures such as the
number and frequency of customer
contacts, or the number of clinical
presentations fail to capture how effective
the MSL is in building enduring and
productive relationships with key medical
thought leaders. The preponderance of an
MSL s contributions are qualitative in
nature, and ultimately involve the MSLs
customers determining the value of the
scientifi c and medical information
provided by the MSL.
Varied resource materials and articles
relating to MSLs currently exist in trade
publications and the popular industry
press. In the interest of brevity and quality,
we have limited our citations to peer-
reviewed journal articles and commercially
published references.
We believe fi eld-based MSLs will
become increasingly important in the
pharmaceutical industry. While the precise
remit of MSLs may vary from company to
company, their chief role in establishing
scientifi c relationships with medical
thought leaders and other healthcare
decision makers will not change. Based on
our experience and judgment, as well as
best practices published in other fi elds,
9 12
the following fi ve principles or key success
factors are offered to describe the MSL of
#1: Excellent communicator with
cutting-edge knowledge
The successful MSLs of tomorrow will
demonstrate an in-depth understanding
of disease states, pathophysiology and
therapeutics, and will be adept at
interpreting scientifi c literature. They will
be experts on the company s products and
competitor compounds. MSLs will also
have a thorough understanding of the
clinical development process and the
regulatory environment in which the
pharmaceutical industry operates. MSLs
will communicate high-quality, balanced
Table 1 : Key responsibilities of medical science liaisons
Research Education Other
Clinical trial support
(Company-sponsored; IITs)
Thought leader interaction Thought leader identifi cation
Clinical trial concept or protocol
feasibility assessment
Facilitation of knowledge exchange
between the medical community
and company
Scientifi c representation of
company at medical meetings
Translation of preclinical research
results in to clinical application
Clinical presentations Scientifi c competitive intelligence
Facilitation of publication of
clinical trial data
Formulary presentations Business development clinical
Facilitation of communication of
clinical trial data
Scientifi c Advisory Board
coordination and participation
Enhancement of company’s
image of scientifi c leadership
Clinical trial awareness initiatives
Scientifi c training for internal
company stakeholders
Marketing Masterclass
© 2008 Palgrave Macmillan Ltd 1745-7904 $30.00 Vol. 8, 3 193–197 Journal of Medical Marketing 195
and meaningful information on a
consistent and timely basis with healthcare
practitioners who are viewed as thought
leaders in their respective fi elds. In
addition to mastering clinical content,
MSLs will have a clear understanding of
the context in which this knowledge is
made relevant. As such, MSLs will be able
to distil valuable insights rather than
simply presenting information. This
command of both content and context
will also enable MSLs to uncover unmet
medical needs and provide their company
with actionable intelligence. The MSL s
customer whether he or she is an
infl uential academician, clinical research
investigator, specialist or primary care
clinician working in a managed market
setting will fi nd the open two-way
exchange of scientifi c and medical
information with the MSL to be very
valuable, and will also be likely to
recommend the MSL as a source of
information to a colleague.
#2: Relationship focused
Successful MSLs will forge peer-to-peer
scientifi c relationships with key customers
whose thoughts and actions shape the
access to and the utilisation of medicines.
The MSL will purposefully probe and use
active listening to determine a customer s
needs and his or her decision-making
process. They will strive to give customers
precisely what scientifi c resource they
need in the way they want it, tailoring
their approach to meet the individual
customer s goals. MSLs will have an
in-depth knowledge of the thought leader s
business, the thought leader s customers
and how the MSL can help improve the
thought leader s business from a scientifi c /
medical perspective. MSLs will be masters
in the art of facilitating introductions
and mediating collaborations between
thought leaders and key internal R & D
colleagues, based on a solid foundation of
understanding of their respective needs
and goals. MSLs will fully understand
the liaison component of their job
description. MSLs will become especially
effective consultants when they
strategically and purposefully connect
the thought leader with appropriate
individuals and functions within their
company: this will enable the MSL to
provide a thought leader with a holistic
relationship experience with the company.
# 3: Professional and emotionally
The successful MSLs of tomorrow will
focus on the long term, and will be
patient and persistent in their endeavours
to cultivate a high degree of trust with
their customers. MSLs will have a
professional attitude and will maintain
ethical behaviour at all times. They will
treat all stakeholders with respect, are
truthful, provide fair-balanced information
and honour commitments. MSLs will
differentiate between promotion and full
scientifi c exchange of legitimate,
nonmisleading medical and scientifi c
information. MSLs will clearly understand
their role in helping healthcare
practitioners access accurate, objective,
fair-balanced and current medical and
scientifi c knowledge while always
communicating within the boundaries
dictated by legal statutes and regulatory
guidelines. MSLs will also be fully
cognizant that any discussion with
customers regarding potential off-label
uses of drugs can only take place as a
result of a customer s unsolicited request
for drug information. MSL interactions
with their customers will be driven by
educational purposes and are independent
of the customer s sales or prescribing
habits. As members of a fi eld-based
function, successful MSLs will be
self-motivated and self-disciplined. MSLs
see themselves as lifelong learners, who are
continually looking for new things that
will keep them on the cutting edge. They
Journal of Medical Marketing Vol. 8, 3 193–197 © 2008 Palgrave Macmillan Ltd 1745-7904 $30.00
Dumovic and Chin
will understand that they have to go
through continuous change to keep up
with the needs of the dynamic healthcare
landscape. Lastly, MSLs will also have the
needed fl exibility to adapt to constant
change inherent in a fast-paced business.
#4: Meets both customer and
company needs
Successful MSLs will understand that to
be truly successful their interactions must
be designed to meet both customer and
company needs. Successful MSLs will
believe pharmaceuticals can have a positive
impact on people and can advance patient
health. MSLs will also be able to provide
key insights from the healthcare
community that can help to shape
company strategy regarding future product
development. MSLs will provide thought
leaders with compelling and highly valued
medical and scientifi c information
regarding a company s product or related
topic. Within the legal and regulatory
requirements, they will provide current
scientifi c evidence supporting the
company s product and / or therapeutic
category. And by supporting thought
leader educational and research activities
within the medical and scientifi c
communities, MSLs will thereby help the
thought leader parlay his or her expertise
to inform other healthcare practitioners
regarding the most appropriate utilisation
of the company s product.
# 5: Passionate in helping to
improve patient care
Lastly, and most importantly the successful
MSLs of tomorrow will understand that
the exchange of scientifi c and medical
information regarding a drug is always
intended to benefi t patients and contribute
to the practice of medicine. MSLs will
have passion: they will believe their
company s products have a positive impact
on people with illness and disease, and
they will be passionate about the role they
will play in helping thought leaders shape
medical practice by advancing patient
health. Their natural curiosity and thirst
for continuing medical education will also
enable them to establish and maintain a
peer-to-peer scientifi c relationship with
their customers. Successful MSLs will
fully embrace a view that the public
health can be best served when healthcare
practitioners receive timely, truthful, fair-
balanced and accurately communicated
drug information.
Effective and enduring scientifi c
relationships between pharmaceutical
companies and the medical community
can be greatly facilitated by MSLs
providing accurate, current,
noncommercial, evidence-based drug
information. In our view, companies
that can best leverage these scientifi c
relationships will have a signifi cant
competitive advantage.
Disclaimer : The views and opinions
expressed by Dr Dumovic are his and
not necessarily those of Novartis
Pharmaceuticals Corporation.
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... Other MSL activities are more easily distinguishable from Sales Representative's activities: MSL now also collaborate with R&D teams by facilitating contact to study centers or provide training for other internal functions (Dumovic and Chin, 2008). ...
... Understandingly MSL positions involve high costs. They are often challenged to demonstrate the value they provide for their company (Dumovic and Chin, 2008). ...
... Just counting a visit does not indicate whether the visit had any value for the customer, or even more difficult: whether it had any value for the company. At the same time core roles of the MSL such as relationship building, acquiring insights and advancing scientific exchange are hard to quantify (Chin, 2007;Dumovic and Chin, 2008). Overcoming these issues is an ongoing process in which companies try to blend quantitative and qualitative measurements, the latter often acquired through market research. ...
Medical Affairs (MAF) is a department within the pharmaceutical industry that acts as a link between commercial activities and Research & Development. Traditionally MAF is occupied with both reactive tasks such as Medical Information and rather proactive roles e.g. the field-based branch consisting of Medical Scientific Liaison (MSL) (Beelke, 2017). Contrary to commercial activities, MAF activities encompass reactive scientific communication outside of the approved indications as well as data generation through clinical studies (Beelke, 2017). This allows a highly scientific exchange on the frontlines of further therapeutic options but also requires a clear separation from commercial activities and measurements (Werling, Carnell and McCormick, 2011). Further complicating this transition, the full impact of MAF activities is not easily trackable and measurable because their nature does not allow them to be linked directly and individually to sales of pharmaceutical products (e.g. through EFPIA Code of Practice (EFPIA, 2019)), as opposed to commercial activities.
Background Prior U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) surveys with healthcare providers (HCPs) have focused on attitudes toward direct-to-consumer advertising and have not specifically examined professionally-targeted prescription drug promotion. Similarly, there are no recent national surveys of HCPs examining their interactions with the pharmaceutical industry. Objectives The goal of this study was to use a national sample of HCPs to examine exposure to professionally-targeted prescription drug promotions and interactions with industry, and knowledge, attitudes and practices related to FDA approval of prescription drugs. Methods An online national survey was conducted with 2,000 HCPs representing primary care physicians (PCPs), specialists (SPs), physician assistants (PAs), and nurse practitioners (NPs). The sample was randomly drawn from WebMD’s Medscape subscriber network, stratified by HCP group, and designed to yield target numbers of completed surveys in each group. Weights were computed to correct for unequal selection probabilities, differential response rates, and differential coverage and used to generalize completed surveys to a national population of PCPs, SPs, NPs, and PAs. Results Exposure and attention to pharmaceutical promotions and contact with industry were significantly associated with reported increase in pharmaceutical industry influence on decisions about prescription drugs. SPs were significantly more likely to prescribe off-label and serve as opinion leaders for the pharmaceutical industry compared to other provider groups. Conclusions Findings indicate pharmaceutical promotions directed at HCPs occur in many forms and are disseminated through multiple channels. By using a nationally representative sample of HCPs, this study provides population-level estimates for exposure and attention to prescription drug promotion and contact with industry and evidence for their influence on prescriber decisions. Findings from this study will help to inform FDA of HCP responses to and impacts of prescription drug promotion.
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Field-based medical programs are common adjuncts to development, headquarters medical, and commercial operations for most pharmaceutical companies in the United States. The shift in regulatory complexity, coupled with a waning acceptance and impact of the traditional “reach/frequency” business model observed by many pharmaceutical companies, has enhanced the strategic importance of field-based medical groups. Lack of standardized training and assessment of functional capabilities may threaten this enhanced role and raise the question of the need for a uniform certification process. To confirm or dispel our own bias about the need for certification, we explored this issue using an informal web-based survey tool. A simple majority (63%) of responders to our survey felt certification was not needed. It was interesting that the subset of managers was evenly split, while the majority (70%) of individual contributors was not supportive of a certification requirement. These results suggest that while certification is not an attractive option to the majority of responders, a meaningful minority of responders, including some managers of medical science liaison programs, believe certification is important. Our opinion is that while the move to certification is not imminent, this will continue to be an important topic for discussion and debate in the years to come.
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Medical marketing is the development and application of innovative, scientific evidence-based solutions to patient care problems. Medical marketing aims to bridge the theoretical and the pragmatic through strategic integration early in the drug developmental process, evaluating literature, analyzing industry trends, establishing/conducting research based on real world clinical issues and providing those analyses within the acceptability of the practice patterns, both humanistic and economic, present in that world area. Using innovative peer to peer exchange formats both before and after a novel intervention is available in the marketplace assures that the developmental work and the commercialization of that intervention will be maximized to the health care community. The authors describe a Global Medical Information Group (Health Economics and Applied Therapeutics) which has been developed to deliver on the promise of these medical marketing principles.
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Biotechnology companies with a product commercialisation strategy are deploying field-based medical science liaisons (MSLs) to increase awareness of a therapeutic market, support clinical trials, and educate the healthcare community on appropriate product utilisation. Attracting experienced MSLs to smaller or younger companies remains a significant challenge for MSL directors. Comprehensive MSL training programmes are also lacking at young biotechnology companies, even though directors interviewed in this paper all agreed that training is a key provision to equip MSLs for quality performance. As field-based medical programmes are expanding in the biopharmaceutical industry, small MSL teams often compete in the same market dominated by large pharmaceutical MSL forces. Small teams that are staffed with experienced MSLs, trained rigorously on both technical and non-technical competencies, and motivated toward effective teamwork are positioned for success. Medical science liaison directors who proactively communicate with senior management on the value that MSLs bring to their companies are more likely to obtain resources for training and will leverage their MSL programmes for growth.
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A Medical Science Liaison (MSL) Metrics Consensus initiative aims to identify field-medical activities throughout the pharmaceutical product lifecycle, and metrics associated with those activities. Since MSL programme deployment strategies may vary from company to company, pharmaceutical executives often use retrospective benchmarking studies to assist their field-medical teams in establishing programme metrics. This Medical Science Liaison Metrics Consensus initiative is the first of its kind to identify activities that are unique to field-based MSL team capabilities. Upon identification of unique contribution of MSL teams across the product lifecycle, metrics were identified and associated with MSL activities across the product lifecycle, with an emphasis on outcomes and compliance. Organisations may use the results of this Medical Science Liaison Metrics Consensus to proactively assess and design their MSL programmes' current valuation standards.
A Medical Science Liaison (MSL) Metrics Consensus initiative aims to identify field-medical activities throughout the pharmaceutical product lifecycle, and metrics associated with those activities. Since MSL programme deployment strategies may vary from company to company, pharmaceutical executives often use retrospective benchmarking studies to assist their field-medical teams in establishing programme metrics. This Medical Science Liaison Metrics Consensus initiative is the first of its kind to identify activities that are unique to field-based MSL team capabilities. Upon identification of unique contribution of MSL teams across the product lifecycle, metrics were identified and associated with MSL activities across the product lifecycle, with an emphasis on outcomes and compliance. Organisations may use the results of this Medical Science Liaison Metrics Consensus to proactively assess and design their MSL programmes' current valuation standards.
In an effort to assess medical liaison trends across the pharmaceutical industry, a survey of medical liaison managers was previously administered and published. The intent of the initial survey was to identify overall approaches used by pharmaceutical companies in defining and managing the medical liaison role. We conducted this follow-up survey to focus on areas identified by the initial survey participants as major challenges. The current survey focused on developing and conducting medical liaison training, as well as demonstrating and communicating the value of medical liaison programs. The survey was sent to approximately 1,275 recipients with instructions requesting that the survey was to be completed only by managers or directors of medical liaison programs. The survey results indicated the following: There is a broad range of new hire and experienced medical liaison training practices, training of newly hired medical liaison differs from that of experienced medical liaisons, and many innovative practices are used to overcome the challenge of demonstrating the value of a medical liaison.
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Virtually all major pharmaceutical companies have deployed field-based medical support programs. Since 1967, medical liaison personnel have supported a range of customers, including opinion leaders, investigators, and health care decision makers. This article summarizes the history of field-based medical programs, and provides results of a 1999 pharmaceutical industry medical information survey and information on establishing a regional liaison program. Technological advances, consolidation of decision making, and the increasing complexity of health care decisions will mandate the need for continued field medical program development and expansion.
Medical liaisons were initially established in the pharmaceutical industry in the late 1960s. Since that time, their role has been evolving in such a way that today medical liaisons are helping to improve outcomes for patients in a variety of venues. They accomplish this through the timely, responsive dissemination of medical information, by exploring mutual clinical and scientific interests with health care providers, by facilitating medical education, and through understanding the dynamics and unmet needs within therapeutic areas. In the literature, there are no recent, published benchmarking data available on medical liaison programs within the pharmaceutical industry. To fill this gap, we conducted a 29-question survey to gather information on 10 key categories of medical liaison programs. The areas for which we sought information included company demographics, medical liaison division background, individual medical liaison information, roles and responsibilities, client demographics, training, knowledge assessment, performance review/performance management, administrative tasks, and current challenges. The survey was sent to approximately 400 members of the Drug Information Association's Medical Communications Special Interest Area Community. Instructions were provided requesting that the survey be filled out only by managers of medical liaison programs. We received 42 complete responses; these indicated that there are many similarities in medical liaison positions across the industry, such as reporting structure, job responsibilities, and medical liaison credentials. Despite these similarities, there are many areas in which medical liaison roles differ between companies.