Medical Science Liaison Basics
Medical Science Liaisons: An Overview
First Published 2001 by Jane Chin, PhD.
Overcoming the Catch-22 to the Medical Science Liaison Career.
Wanted: Relationship Capital. Seeking: Medical Science Liaisons
First Published 2001 by Jane Chin, PhD.
Why Medical Science Liaisons Lead to Clinical Trials Success
Emergence of MSLs as a Formidable Educational Force
By Jane Chin, Ph.D.
One of the difficulties for those prescribing new medicines is keeping up to date with the latest developments from the pharmaceutical industry. A good scientific understanding of how newer and more complex medicines work will be crucial to clinical outcomes. Furthermore, a channel must be established between healthcare providers at the cutting edge of medicine and the pharmaceutical companies keen on innovating at the cutting edge of a disease state.
MSLs serve to educate
In order to meet this demand for better scientific exchange between thought leaders and pharmaceutical companies, the role of the medical science liaison (MSL) has emerged over the last 40 years and continues to evolve in the pharmaceutical industry. Medical science liaisons often have doctoral degrees (Ph.D., M.D., Pharm.D.), with extensive clinical research background in the therapeutic area they support.
Medical science liaisons facilitate collaborative research efforts between thought leaders (also called key opinion leaders, or KOLs) and the company and provide scientific information to healthcare professionals. Thought leaders are becoming increasingly difficult to engage, and medical science liaisons have been successful in involving top-tier thought leaders in peer-to-peer discussions regarding therapeutic strategies and in the identification of clinical research opportunities. The role of MSLs is very much a scientific one and should not be confused with the role of the sales representative.
Field-based medical programs are expanding in the biopharmaceutical industry. In the past, the field-based medical program and its constituents, the medical science liaison (MSL), are well entrenched in large pharmaceutical companies. Now, biotechnology firms and mid-sized pharmaceutical companies are establishing medical liaison teams for pre-launch support and field-based activities in product life cycle management. Some device and diagnostic companies are also experimenting with the field-based medical science liaison concept.
MSLs provide value
Successful medical science liaisons foster productive relationships with key opinion leaders through a consultative approach. Thought-leader development can encompass skills ranging from evaluating research sites, facilitating research proposals, presenting clinical data, moderating expert forums (“advisory boards”), and training physician speakers.
Medical science liaisons are also potentially exposed to situations involving ethical considerations, and ethical training is a crucial component of a productive tenure. As the pharmaceutical market internationalizes the ethics training must be global in its nature. Furthermore, as the regulatory environment is a dynamic one, customized training specific to the liaison role is beneficial for both new and seasoned medical liaisons.
The future is MSL
In the current market environment where healthcare professionals and patients both want reassurance concerning the pharmaceutical industry’s products, the role of the MSL has become increasingly crucial. Technical and commercial skills help the pharmaceutical industry bring its products to the market, but once launched, pharmaceutical companies cannot succeed in the long-term without continued and productive dialog with thought leaders who shape the standards of healthcare and research at the cutting edge of medicine.
MSLs originated in the United States, the world's biggest pharmaceutical market, but as the industry globalizes, MSL programs are also beginning to take root in countries outside the United States. MSLs therefore have become a formidable educational force in the pharmaceutical industry, and the profession will only become increasingly important in the face of complex treatment paradigms.
Why Can't HR "Understand" Medical Science Liaisons?
By Jane Chin, Ph.D.
Recently an experienced MSL was interviewing for a job, and was infuriated when a HR (human resources) staff asked what seemed to the candidate to be an outrageous question: how would the candidate approach doctors to educate them about the company’s drug? Since the drug is still investigational and therefore in “peri-label” status, the candidate viewed this as an affront to the most basic tenet of MSL compliance: no promoting drugs off-label including non-label-related off-label. The candidate expressed this concern to the hiring manager, who offered reassurance that the company intends on properly deploying the MSL function.
Human resources catch a lot of flak and bear the brunt of criticism with MSL hiring. I understand how it can be frustrating both to MSL directors and to MSLs themselves when HR can’t seem to “get” that field-science aren’t the same as field-sales. But seriously, those of us who work in this field can’t even agree most of the time how and when MSLs “should” be used, and we continually debate over “how gray is too gray”. We can’t expect HR to always “get” what many of us are still trying to get.
We can help HR with the basics though, including how we want questions phrased. In the prior example, perhaps the question may be framed with the premise that the MSL is already in an interaction with the physician based on a legitimate and documented need. I suspect the intent behind the original question relates to the communication style of the candidate and how the candidate may adapt to a specific situation.
You may even want to help your HR staff by letting them know which words may trigger hyper-vigilant responses in MSL candidates. Some MSLs don’t like such phrases as “increase physician access” or “help out sales colleagues”; make sure your HR staff knows not to use these terms unless these are actual company directives.
So construct the specificity of the situation – was the physician concerned about a specific side effect of the product? Did the physician want to propose a study idea to the company? Was the physician unhappy with the outcome of a recent study proposal to the company? Any of these situations allows the candidate to demonstrate aptitude in managing a thought leader relationship without getting caught up in an unintended compliance issue that detracts the candidate from the actual question and injects concern into the candidate’s mind about whether the company is using the MSL function inappropriately.
Companies are big on crossfunctional team work; let’s include HR as one of those team functions we work well with.