An H1 ‘Insight’: Trends Shaping the Future of Medical Affairs: Part 2

Ariel Katz
Sep 23, 2020

Medical Affairs has undergone dramatic changes – and will continue to do so

Once a minor off-shoot of marketing, medical affairs has developed into a critical strategic function over the last decade or so. As the healthcare industry continues to undergo dramatic changes, the role of medical affairs will continue to change along with it and will become even more critical for pharmaceutical companies.

Among the many trends and developments that will shape and alter the healthcare industry in the years to come, we selected those we believe are most relevant to the medical affairs profession.

Science Reigns Supreme

Medical information has always been complex and specialized and is getting increasingly more so. Fueled by the increase in specialty care, biologic drugs, rare disease treatments, and personalized medicine, complex scientific facts need to be communicated to all stakeholders who are involved in the purchase decision, from provider to payer, physician and patient. According to Bain, one reason that new drug launches underperform is the failure to communicate science effectively.

Newly launched drugs are more complex and drugs are more specialized, increasing the importance of medical affairs trusted scientific and medical point persons. Source:  Bain
Newly launched drugs are mroe complex and drugs are more specialized, increasing the importance of medical affairs trusted scientific and medical point persons. Source: Bain

Trust is a critical component in this communication challenge given the public’s deep-rooted mistrust of pharmaceutical companies and their marketing claims. The important role of re-establishing the credibility of the pharma industry rests mainly on the shoulders of the medical affairs professionals. In the future, medical affairs, even more than currently, will need to establish themselves as trusted scientific partners presenting appropriate, credible and unbiased information to all stakeholders from the public to the payers.

For pharma companies, this approach is resource intensive but also means that they are able to get first-hand insights into the changing needs of their customers from their medical affairs teams.

The Universe Revolves Around the Patient

Digital and social media have fundamentally changed healthcare. Today’s patients consult “Dr. Google” before seeing a physician, measure everything from calories consumed and burned to heart rate and sleep quality with a cool device and expect their healthcare experience to be as fast and convenient as ordering a new gadget from Amazon or hiring an Uber. The days of the passive patient are coming to an end. Enabled by technology, younger patients are turning into important decision makers in their own healthcare and that of their loved ones.

Medical affairs need to adjust to this embrace of consumerism in healthcare. They need to identify, engage and partner with new types of medical influencers such as POLs (Patient Opinion Leaders) and continue to work with traditional influencers such as KOLs (Key Opinion Leaders). They will have to be able to communicate effectively with more informed patients and share personalized medical information in two-way conversations. This challenge, however, is also a great opportunity to gain new insights into the patients’ point of view.

Value as a Strategic Objective

In an increasingly resource-constrained healthcare environment proving medical, clinical and economic value of a treatment will be a central task of medical affairs professionals. Value means very different things to different stakeholders: while reimbursement is important for physicians, payers look to reduce the overall cost of healthcare and patients are mainly worried about healthcare premiums and out-of-pocket expenses.

It is the medical affairs teams who will be tasked with linking clinical results to patient outcomes, collecting feedback and input about commercial drugs and compounds in development from physicians, KOLs and patients and feeding that information back into the early stages of drug development where medical affairs traditionally had no or a very limited role. Ultimately, the insights the medical affairs professionals gain will improve ROI of pharma companies, who can design and conduct more effective clinical trials and offer drugs that truly improve patient outcomes and with that add value for all stakeholders.

Real-World Evidence

Real-World Evidence (RWE) has become a key concept in drug development and commercialization. RWE refers to data gathered from the use of drugs in the “real world” - as opposed to clinical trials only – and complements other patient related data, such as genomic data, data from electronic health records and information about a patient’s social determinants of health. RWE seeks to answer the fundamental question of modern, personalized healthcare “What treatment is best for a patient?”

Medical Affairs will play a key role in linking scientific knowledge to clinical results and information about real-world patient outcomes. That deep knowledge can be leveraged across the entire drug development cycle from early stage development to Phase IV studies as well as across departments to create value for the entire organization.

Medical affairs finds itself at or at least near the epicenter of fundamental changes in drug development and commercialization. Given their critical function at the interface between internal development teams and critical outside stakeholders, specifically healthcare providers, payers, physicians, KOLs and patients, the future of medical affairs looks bright and its role is likely to gain in importance and prominence.