Medical science liaisons (MSLs) have several touch points across the healthcare field. They work within life sciences and biopharmaceutical companies to learn about products and their uses. They communicate with healthcare providers and key opinion leaders to understand industry trends. Then, they try to marry these two worlds.
There is an increasingly powerful tool that MSLs can take advantage of when connecting pharmaceutical companies with medical care providers: data. Data can provide insights into different healthcare worlds and guide medical science liaisons through their communication strategies. Here is why MSLs need data and how it can empower their efforts.
Medical science liaisons are stewards of information. Their job is to connect relevant audiences with the valuable pieces of data that they have. However, they also come across information during this engagement process — invaluable insights that can be brought back to the organization.
“The information highway runs both ways,” says Debarati Banik, product application specialist at Thermo Fisher Scientific. “Medical affairs professionals not only serve the purpose of disseminating information on behalf of the industry but also gather and present information back to the industry in a comprehensive manner, be it in the form of competitive intelligence or end-user feedback.”
Medical science liaisons are often the main external-facing representatives of an organization. As such, they have the most contact with healthcare professionals and even patients, and can learn from those conversations and experiences.
“MSLs are well positioned to gather insights from the field that can be used to inform internal clinical development, marketing and market access in developing their strategies,” according to Paul Theron, global head of execution and impact at Merck, and fellow researchers. “These insights may be based on expert opinion, observations of barriers in the patient journey or questions that emerge in scientific exchange.”
Data comes in many forms, and medical science liaisons are well-positioned to engage with qualitative insights that can be pooled together to form actionable ideas inside a clinical research or biopharmaceutical company.
One of the main challenges facing medical science liaisons in the adoption of data solutions is the organization of these insights. Multiple data sources — especially qualitative interviews and personal stories — are exceptionally difficult to align, compare, and analyze.
“To make an impact and move the needle, Medical Affairs teams need an organized and unified data generation program that coordinates the efforts of the multiple functions involved in data generation activities,” says Dr. Julie Cahill, vice president of consulting and medical director services at Zipher Medical Affairs. “The program must also align with the other pillars of a pharmaceutical organization, Research & Development and Commercial.”
Using one example, medical science liaisons can gather data on healthcare providers and use this information to better connect with key opinion leaders (KOLs). There is a tremendous amount of data on these doctors and researchers to be accessed and understood. The true value of medical science liaisons and this data they use won’t be fully realized until established systems are in place.
Once medical science liaisons have their data organized within a system, they can move forward with the analysis and interpretation of the information. This is where medical affairs teams can shine, taking on more of a leadership and consulting role within the organization.
“With their medical credentials, scientific know-how, and credibility among stakeholders, Medical Affairs professionals are emerging as the natural ‘owners’ of scientific knowledge and data within the organization and across the lifecycle,” writes Matthias Evers, et al. at McKinsey & Company. “This potential offers Medical Affairs the opportunity to leave behind its former status as principally a support function and to forge a new role as a primary strategic pillar of the organization.”
Medical science liaisons are empowered when they fully understand the information at their fingertips. They can thrive when the data they have access to can be analyzed and used.
“Continuing to deliver the data with scientific integrity but also taking the time to understand the HCP’s reactions to that data, and uncovering underlying beliefs, will help the MSL to provide her/him with further information to ensure that the education is thorough,” writes Mary Costanzo, clinical oncology training director at Axiom. “Adding patient centricity to the discussion can provide tremendous value to the HCP and develop and strengthen the trust and rapport with the HCP.”
These analyses can help medical science liaisons fully understand why the information they pass between HCPs and the organization is important, whether they are studying research from the pharmaceutical team or reporting back on a healthcare provider’s reaction.
As the value of data collection and analysis by medical science liaisons is increasingly recognized, the need to invest in digital tools also becomes more apparent. These systems allow MSLs to collect better insights and efficiently sort them.
“We’re used to talking about digital and pursuing cutting-edge technologies for external uses, while our internal digitalization falls far behind,” writes Su Zhou, head of medical affairs for China at Astellas Pharma. “Why can’t we quantify our work for continuous improvement? We’re still unable to quantify most Medical Affairs-related work. Why can’t we connect our existing online systems for data integrity and synergy?”
In many cases, pharmaceutical companies are just now catching up to the needs of MSL teams. They are beginning to realize what their medical affairs representatives require in order to fully utilize available data systems.
“In the future, there will be significant changes in healthcare and pharmaceutical industries, and many of these will be due to technological advances and digitalisation,” according to leading researcher at AstraZeneca, Alexander Bedenkov, and fellow researchers. “Medical affairs will be largely influenced by these developments in terms of partnerships with key stakeholders, embracing innovation and patient-centric healthcare, and demonstrating value for novel treatment options.”
The field of medical affairs will continue to grow as long as companies invest in the potential of these team members.
So what is holding MSLs back from utilizing and analyzing data systems? Leadership needs to move MSL teams forward by provide better processes, infrastructure and industry resources.
Industry knowledge is a key aspect of MSL success. These employees need access to educational materials so they understand their true potential. They need to see what systems are available to collect data and put it to use.
“With the continued growth of the MSL function there is a lack of experienced MSLs to satisfy demand,” says Helen Kane, CEO at One MSL. “We need to recognise that these individuals are brought into a unique environment and expected to deliver with impact and value. To do so, they need to be supported throughout their professional development journey.”
Biopharmaceutical development organizations and medical researchers are starting to understand the true worth of medical science liaisons. This perceived value must be accompanied by investments. Companies that invest in data collection, curation, management and analysis can help their MSLs succeed, both when they are communicating information and when they are collecting it.