The medical affairs function is fast becoming a strategic lynchpin in pharmaceutical company’s business strategy. The value MA brings is that it straddles the divide between the commercial and research arms of pharma organizations. The messaging it communicates to both internal and external stakeholders is grounded in hard science but uses relatable language.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at why MA teams need to increase their scientific voice in the industry and some of the ways they can achieve this.
Overworked and time-pressured, many healthcare providers struggle to find the time to read the latest medical science breakthroughs and treatment developments. The data and results keep piling up and MA teams can be the conduit between HCPs and new knowledge, explains
Niamh O’Reilly, Ph.D., scientific affairs associate and medical writer at CRC Australia.
Medical affairs teams are scientific experts in disease, so building a strong scientific voice and reaching out to key HCPs and opinion leaders can help reveal new treatment opportunities. Vital to the success of communications between MA teams and stakeholders is using digital processes and gathering real-world evidence.
This is because HCPs regard real world evidence as a highly convincing reason to prescribe therapies, O’Reilly says. Additionally, informed patients are better engaged on digital platforms and when participating in online patient advocacy groups that provide vital feedback to MA teams.
Digital processes can also make compliance more effective. Erick J. Gaussens, chief scientific officer at ProductLife Group, says digital transformation of regulatory affairs and the application of AI and data mining can help MA teams capture relevant support for their scientific messaging.
Successful aggregation, curation and updates of scientific data depends on having a robust scientific communications platform powered by AI. Using such a tool will free up human resources, according to the team at therapy evidence database Evid Science — the machine gathers data while humans add insights, context and communication.
An AI-enabled platform will help MA teams add scientific weight to their messaging as it will ensure that the relevant medical evidence is current and at hand. An advantage AI is its lack of bias — it considers all of the literature and not just the search terms someone inputs. The Evid Science staff says AI gathers 30 percent more abstracts than manual searches. With these additional resources, medical affairs teams can formulate the best scientific messaging to communicate.
It’s worth pointing out that MA teams — and pharma generally — could be well served by professionals with coding and computing skills as AI becomes more prevalent, notes Katherine Mathieson, CEO of the British Science Association. She says to expect AI’s growing role in shaping the future of the science sector.
Medical science liaisons (MSLs) are often recruited from outside the pharma industry. Yet their role is fundamental in connecting pharma’s scientific breakthroughs with external stakeholders. It’s vital, then, that they are trained efficiently and effectively, says Helen Kane, CEO of training consultancy One MSL.
Essential elements of training should include comprehensive onboarding such as job description, drug scientific data, medical strategy, compliance, ongoing clinical programme, patient journey, competitor data, and key external and internal stakeholders.
Kane surveyed MSLs and found role-specific onboarding was lacking for more than two-thirds. The solution is consistent standards for MSL employment, training, onboarding and management, she says. That way, they can develop the necessary skills, which include:
The Healthcare Communications Association (HCA) and specialist healthcare communications consultancy 90TEN partnered to create a report on the state of healthcare communications. Reporter Jonathan Owen explains that one of the key messages from the report is to encourage communicators to innovate instead of allowing regulations to inhibit them.
The report suggests MA teams to embrace innovation by creating a culture that empowers the brave. Comms should also be agile and streamlined, and engage customers on a personal level.
“These recommendations are a recipe for making our communications braver, bolder and more creative and I’m very excited to see where they take the healthcare communications sector,” says Peter Impey, managing director of communications at 90TEN.
Pharma companies need to be prepared for disruption in the industry. So they should be looking at emerging markets, economies and companies to partner with, explain Alexander Bedenkov, M.D., Ph.D., et al at Pharma Exec. Doing so will help to safeguard these pharma organizations’ ongoing growth in their capabilities.
Partnerships should focus on advancing R&D, mentoring scientists and researchers, and curating a network of experts including academics, entrepreneurs, industry and medical professionals, governmental partners, and venture capitalists.
MA teams are uniquely placed to enable this collaboration, the writers argue. By creating partnerships, innovation can happen. MA teams need to advance the scientific voice of their pharma employers to be attractive as partners and, through collaboration, will further their reach, providing valuable medical communication.
Building relationships between MA teams and HCPs is based on trust, respect and hard science. HCPs are busy, so it can be useful for MA teams to connect with those who are still relatively young in their careers, says Felix Jansson at stakeholder platform Monocl.
Connecting early on can help ensure that MSLs remain connected to these HCPs even as their experience and reputation grows, putting them in higher demand as opinion leaders on advisory boards and at conferences.
Additionally, connecting with these younger HCPs allows medical affairs teams to engage with different perspectives that can inform their scientific communications. Younger HCPs often have unorthodox ideas and new approaches to healthcare, Jansson writes. Tapping into a network with these characteristics can enable future innovations.
Medical affairs teams can maximize their value by quantifying the impact of medical activities. They should transform science to value, says management consultant Justin Soon, which requires reframing how pharma perceives their performance. It should be measured by the impact MA deliverables have on patients and the healthcare system.
To ensure MA’s value is seen, the function should pursue scientific engagement with HCPs, patients and other stakeholders. Doing so effectively requires MA teams to tailor content to satisfy the specific needs of individual stakeholder groups. Soon advises MA teams to consistently engage the scientific community to develop strategy and foster innovation throughout the entire product lifecycle.
The movement by MA teams from a support function to becoming a valuable arm of pharma business is one gaining traction in the industry. When pharma embraces the strategic value of medical affairs, much can be achieved, says clinician Daniela Crandall.
MA teams can apply their insights into multiple important areas such as business development through assessing new technologies for acquisition, engaging key opinion leaders and managing data for successful go-to-market strategies.
They can also focus energies to improve the scientific quality of medical content and communications so that the messaging resonates with relevant stakeholders. Indeed, stakeholder education — that of physicians, patients, leadership and commercial teams — is vital for effective use of medical products.
Crandall says MA teams can spread the scientific word effectively by attending conferences and connecting with the media as well as authoring articles for scientific and medical journals.
Part of increasing the share of scientific voice requires a patient-centric approach. Medical affairs teams are already showing their value in engaging patients to help further drug developments and uses. Nicola Davies at Eye for Pharma says patients are instrumental influencers.
Research will be patient-centric when it is guided by patient communities, Dr. Simon Stott, deputy director of research at Cure Parkinson’s Trust, tells Davies. These patients should not be considered only as participants but rather active influencers in MA teams’ decisions, with keen insights to provide feedback on medical information.
Taking a patient-centric approach helps pharma understand patients’ needs, which in turn shapes research approaches. Patients benefit by feeling supported by a medical community, assisting them to fight their illnesses and seek comfort in others with similar conditions.
Physicians and patients — along with payers and other key stakeholders and opinion leaders — need the science of new therapies to be communicated effectively so they can be confident when making healthcare decisions. Pharma needs this messaging to be clear and effective to grow its presence in the industry. It's the role of MA teams to ensure these needs are met.
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