Medical Affairs: Challenges, Opportunities, and Changes

Over the past decade, state-of-the-art biopharmaceutical science and budget shifts have paved the way for a more prominent role for Medical Affairs. The focus on specialty products, for example, requires a greater need for the communication of highly scientific information. This has led to an increase in the hiring of Medical Science Liaisons (MSLs) and a decrease in the hiring of sales representatives, so states an article in PharmaNews Intelligence.

MSLs are also contending with a growing focus on real-world evidence. Their ability to address reactive HCP questions and provide publications is helping companies better service prescribers. Those provider engagements, though, are now virtual. Like those in clinical research making the shift to virtual trials, Medical Affairs will need to adapt to a new way of doing business if they are to continue to evolve.

With so much change in the absence of a road map or best practices, how do companies know what is working? How do we avoid the swing-and-miss and hit more homeruns?

The answer lies in the backbone of the entire pharmaceutical industry: research.

Shape virtual connections

Key MSL responsibilities include identifying gaps in scientific understanding and filling those needs with credible information that key opinion leaders (KOLs) trust and use to inform their clinical decision-making. With the shift to virtual engagements, the tried-and-true, face-to-face approaches don’t all apply.

Unbiased research with KOLs can gather the insights into MSL engagements that will identify what is working and how to change what isn’t:

  • Relationship building: Creating and maintaining relationships is different over a screen when the casual microconnections made over coffee and hallway talk aren’t available
  • Current needs: Research can tell if KOL needs are being met or where there are gaps, such as needs beyond medical information like clinal trial support
  • Scientific stickiness: If their needs are being met appropriately, there should be movement in clinical-decision making that aligns with company science

Measure to maintain or modify

Research can evaluate the effect of those relationships and engagements over time, which can also drive adjustments:

  • Resource allocations: Depending on the needs, gaps, and patterns found, hiring decisions can be adjusted
  • Budget modifications: Assigning or reassigning dollars and projections can be made based on facts rather than assumptions
  • Training implications: MSLs need to be set up for success with new skills and information, delivered in new ways

Research: a guiding light

If the industry is going to look to Medical Affairs as pipeline shepherds, they are owed a north star. Research and insights have always guided product development and customer engagements, and it can continue to do so as MSLs and their counterparts chart new territories.

Clinical SCORE has been helping pharmaceutical and life science companies conduct unbiased KOL research and mine market data to maximize the value MSLs deliver to KOLs and optimize their effect on the market.

Reach out to Gary Kaplan or Blaine Cloud to learn how we can help you learn what your KOLs and MSLs need in today’s market.