Part 2: Trends that shape the Role of Medical Science Liaisons

Ariel Katz
Sep 17, 2020

The role of Medical Affairs is changing and with it, the profession of Medical Science Liaison (MSL) is changing as well. In this blog we explore some of the trends in the industry that are influencing the responsibilities and tasks MSLs are taking on now, that are quite different from even a few years ago as well as a couple of emerging trends.

Bridging the Gap Between R&D, Clinical, and Commercial Teams

MSLs started out as a part of the R&D team and their main responsibility was to “translate” the science behind a drug, for physicians. While this remains one of their primary responsibilities, MSLs have, over the years, become more and more involved with the clinical aspects of a drug such as its real-world effectiveness and health outcomes. This trend is driven, among other things, by KOLs who are looking for as much information about a drug as they can possibly get.

But the information and insights MSLs share are not only going one-way: detailed discussions with physicians and other healthcare providers yield valuable, real-world information,  that they can pass on to their colleagues in clinical and commercial functions at their company making them a valuable resource across functions.

Expanding Role of MSLs

MSLs traditionally worked for large (bio)pharmaceutical companies where building relationships with KOLs and being the scientific face of the company towards physicians was their primary responsibility. Now, the role of MSLs is expanding in two ways:

·       They are tasked with interfacing with, and explaining the science behind a drug, to new stakeholders such as and payers and Health Economics & Outcomes Research (HEOR). Increasingly, companies are transitioning HEOR out of the commercial organization, where it traditionally resided, and into the medical affairs teams, and finallyto the MSLs.

·       The role of MSLs is expanding into additional industries such as veterinary health, medical devices, and diagnostics. Companies in these industries are recognizing the value MSLs bring to the dialogue with healthcare providers and are subsequently hiring their own MSL teams.

Growing Numbers of MSLs

One metric clearly shows the increasing importance of MSLs in the pharmaceutical industry: their teams are growing while, on the commercial side, the number of sales reps has not kept up with this growth. Although this doesn’t mean that MSLs are replacing sales reps, it does indicate that pharma companies have put increasing focus on deep engagement with physicians. A survey by the Medical Science Liaison Society shows that the average sales rep spends about two minutes with a physician, while MSLs get about one hour of the physician’s time. This trend also poses a risk. More MSLs means more demand on physicians’ time, which will lead to fierce competition among MSLs for attention, less time per MSL visit – or both.

MSLs Getting Involved Earlier

MSLs have seen their involvement shift towards the pre-launch phase. With more orphan drugs and biologics being approved, there is increased demand for educating stakeholders, specifically physicians, about these complex drugs before they hit the market.

Emerging Trends

But the shift does not end there, an emerging trend includes MSLs getting involved even earlier in clinical development, specifically in Phase II clinical trials. In this early phase MSLs start building relationships with and educating their KOLs about the new drugs.

With the roles and responsibilities of MSLs broadening in scope and scale, one person can no longer handle it all. Another emerging trend is the segmentation of MSL teams to make sure all stakeholders get the information they need when they seek it.

The responsibilities of MSLs will continue to adjust and change but the developments so far and the trends in the industry clearly show that, for now, the roles of MSLs will continue to grow in importance and MSLs will be highly sought after in the pharmaceutical and other industries.