Following the inception of the medical science liaison (MSL) role by Upjohn Pharmaceuticals in 1967, growing demand for MSLs in pharmaceutical, biotechnology, diagnostic, and medical device companies has persisted.1 One of the core responsibilities of any MSL is to serve as an important public resource of scientific and clinical knowledge for their employers.2 To this end, MSLs often serve as public-facing scientific and medical experts to clinicians and other healthcare professionals (HCPs). As healthcare continuously adopts ever-advancing technologies, the demand for MSLs continues to increase. A 2017 study conducted by the Medical Science Liaison Society (MSLS) estimated a growth projection of 20% in the coming years.3 Noting the growing implementation of technology in the pharmaceutical industry and increasing demand for MSLs, we sought to determine how social interest in the MSL role has changed over the last decade. Specifically, we aimed to determine if social interest in the role has increased with increasing industry demand.
One useful methodology to analyze public interest is by tracking search trends with search engine data.4 Of the major search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo!, DuckDuckGo, Sogou), Google searches account for 88.85% of global search engine market share, suggesting Google would most ubiquitously capture search trends relative to other search engines (Fig. 1).5 Importantly, Google has a public, highly-customizable platform to assess search volume called Google Trends (GT). To date, GT has been used extensively in healthcare for applications ranging from tracking disease outbreaks, monitoring disease symptom searches, and assessing interest in a variety of surgical procedures.6-8 However, the extensive applications of GT in biomedical sciences and clinical medicine remain relatively underexplored.6–8 Using GT, we conducted analyzed the search interest of the MSL role, its affiliated search terms, and topics, and identified overall temporal and regional search trends that offer insight into the context of MSL-related searches and may offer direction in medical affairs strategies relating to the MSL position.
Search Engine Data
Determination of web browser utilization was measured by the search engineer with the largest market share. To determine this, StatCounter© with a set time frame from January 2011 to April 2021 (a roughly 10-year timespan) was employed. StatCounter© summary data was downloaded and plotted.
Search Interest Determination
Public interest in the search term “medical science liaison” was quantified using GT which is an easy-to-use feature of Google that collects and normalizes temporal and regional interest in specific search queries. GT normalizes search data relative to its maximum search volume over a given time interval and thus presents search interest as Relative Search Volume (RSV) (on a scale of 0-100). In this case, we searched “medical science liaison” over a 10, 5, and 1-year time interval. GT outputs temporal data as RSV at any point over the given time interval and regional data as the average RSV of a state over the given time interval. We took the average RSV over each time interval and calculated the slope to determine the approximate rate of change in interest. Additionally, we identified the dates of peak interest over each time interval and ranked each state’s RSV from high to low. One-way ANOVA comparison of national RSV at each time interval was carried out to evaluate significant differences in interest over each timeline.
Related Search Terms, Topics, and Job Titles
Google Trends procures related search phrases using two metrics: top related searches and rising related searches. Related queries are searches that users searched in tandem with “medical science liaison”. In particular, phrases categorically defined as “Top Related Queries” were the most popular related searches (on a scale from 0-100). Queries with the biggest increase in RSV since the last time period are categorically defined as “Rising Related Queries”. Within Rising Related Queries, a “Breakout” search phrase is noted as having an exponentially large increase in search volume compared to an incalculably low RSV, thus making a relative comparison difficult. Similarly, GT procures a list of top and rising related topics. In an attempt to filter “noise” (unrelated queries), GT allows users to search for terms or topics. Terms are defined by GT matches for all terms in the query, while topics are a group of terms that share the same concept in any language.
To analyze search frequency for jobs related to the MSL role, we utilized the MSLS 2020 MSL Salary & Compensation Survey – USA Results summary data, which provides a summary of polled professionals with job titles other than MSL. Of these results, associate medical director, clinical medical liaison, clinical science liaison, clinical trial educator, head medical affairs, medical affairs liaison, medical care team lead director, medical director, senior director of medical affairs, and senior director of scientific affairs were listed.9 Within these job titles, we analyzed associate medical director, clinical medical liaison, clinical science liaison, clinical trial educator, and medical affairs liaison due to their measurable volume and comparable ranks.
Results and Discussion
10 Year Trend
Search interest in “medical science liaison” varied dramatically year-over-year. Over the last decade, RSV for “medical science liaison” increased with a slope of 0.1804, with an average RSV of 53.17 ± 19.39, peak RSV in July 2017, and a coefficient of variation of 36.47%. Despite sizable fluctuations in RSV, the overall trend in RSV indicates an increase in searches over time (Figure 2 a). Regional interest was summarized in Figure 3 a. Of the 18 states with enough search data to quantify, 5 belonged to the American Northeast (NE), 4 belonged to the American Southeast (SE) and American Midwest (MW), 3 belonged to the American West (W), and 2 belonged to the American Southwest (SW). Most notably, NE states held 4 of the top 5 highest RSV states with New Jersey (100), Maryland (81), Pennsylvania (76), Massachusetts (73), and Colorado (71) (Figure 2 d & Figure 3 a).
5 Year Trend
Search interest in “medical science liaison” over a 5 year period (2016-2021) increased with a slope of 0.006 and had an average RSV of 30.75 ± 18.74, peak interest in February 2017, and coefficient of variation of 60.93% (Figure 2 b). The change in interest over the 5-year span remained relatively neutral but had a high degree of variation. Despite the reduction in slope compared to the 10-year timeline, regional interest showed a similar trend. Only 18 states generated enough search data for Google to compute RSV (Figure 2 e). Of those 18 states, 5 belonged to the NE, 4 belonged to the SE and MW, 3 belonged to the W, and 2 belonged to the SW. The states with the highest interest remained the same, but with slightly different RSV. Massachusetts (100), New Jersey (99), Maryland (83), Pennsylvania (78), and Colorado (75) made up the highest RSV over a 5-year interval (Figure 2 b & Figure 3 b).
1 Year Trend
Interestingly, over the last 12 months, search interest in “medical science liaison” decreased with a slope of -0.1184 with an average RSV of 43.09 ± 23.10 and coefficient of variation of 53.7% (Figure 2 c). The date of peak interest over the past 12 months occurred in May 2020, during the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. The results over the last year are somewhat surprising given the COVID-19-related increase in health-related searches. Of the 18 states generating enough search volume for analysis, 5 were in the NE, 4 were in the MW and SE, 3 were in the W, and 2 were in the SW (Figure 3 c). The states with the highest RSV were Maryland (100), New Jersey (67), Michigan (65), Massachusetts (64), and Pennsylvania (58). Notably, Colorado did not appear in the top 5 over the past 12 months, while Michigan moved up 12 spots to number 3 (Figure 2 f & Figure 3 c)
Temporal and Regional Comparisons
Overall, search interest in MSLs has increased over the past decade. However, interest was relatively unchanged over a 5 year period and decreased over the last 12 months. The average RSVs varied significantly over each time interval, where the 10-year average RSV was significantly higher than both the 5 and 1 year RSV. The 12-month average RSV was significantly higher than the 5-year average RSV, despite its decrease in search volume (Figure 3 d). All summary data for trends and state interest are summarized in Table 1 and Table 2. One explanation for the differences in average RSV and trend directionality is short bursts in search queries catalyzed by news or healthcare-related event in which the MSL role has short-term increases in interest. While GT controls for populations in its regional data (i.e. states with larger populations like CA and NY would always have the highest RSV due to their population), it appears that the states with the highest RSVs tend to be some of the most populous states in the US. Several factors could drive this phenomenon: (1) high population density areas are more likely to have hospitals, research institutions, and pharmaceutical companies that would generate more search volumes, or (2) density of universities generate increased search volume from prospective MSLs.
Related Search Terms, Topics, and Job Titles
Related search terms over the last 10, 5, and 1 year remained similar. The top related search terms over the last 10 years include “medical science liaison salary” (100), “medical science liaison jobs” (97), “MSL” (32), “what is a medical science liaison” (13), and “medical science liaison job description” (11), while the top rising search terms were “medical science liaison training” (Breakout), “medical science liaison salary” (+130%), and “medical science liaison job” (+50%). Relatedly, over the last 5 years, the top related search terms include “medical science liaison salary” (86), “medical science liaison jobs” (86), “what is a medical science liaison” (16), and “LinkedIn” (9), while the top rising search terms were “what is a medical science liaison” (Breakout), “medical science liaison salary” (+50%), and “medical science liaison jobs” (+40%). Finally, the top related searches over the last 1 year include “medical science liaison jobs” (100) and “medical science liaison salary” (80). Not enough data was generated to compute rising statistics over the last year. All related queries are summarized in Table 3. Based on the related phrasing, it would appear most searches for MSL are related to those interested in attaining the job (i.e. interest in salary, job description, and training).
Arguably the most insightful secondary outcome of this study was the summary of related topics. Since GT procures topics in an attempt to increase search sensitivity (keeping terms in the same context), it allows us to see which separate searches correspond most with searches for medical science liaisons. More than 120 related topics were procured over the 10, 5, and 1-year timelines, all of which are summarized in Table 4. Some of the notable related topics include specific subject area phrases (“oncology”, “genetics”, “neuroscience”, “biology”, “biotechnology”, “ophthalmology”) and specific companies (“Novartis”, “Sanofi”, “AbbVie”, “Merck & Co”, “Amgen”, “GlaxoSmithKline”, “AstraZeneca”, “Syneos Health”, “Teva Pharmaceuticals”, “Allergan”, “Johnson & Johnson”). The rest of the related topics are associated with MSL-related education, training, and jobs.
Based on the MSLS’s 2020 Salary & Compensation – USA results, the most common “other” roles/job titles (synonymous with MSL) were: associate medical director, clinical medical liaison, clinical science liaison, clinical trial educator, and medical affairs liaison.9 Temporal RSV data associated with each job title is presented relative to each title including medical science liaison over 10, 5, and 1-year timelines (Figure 4 a-c). The average RSV for each term over each time interval was calculated and summarized in Figure 4 d, with results indicating the overwhelming majority of search volume was for “medical science liaison,” though in recent years the titles “clinical science liaison” and “clinical medical liaison” have trended upward.
Through the Lens of a Medical Science Liaison: Application in Strategy
From a Medical Science Liaison perspective, these results provide powerful insights into a key aspect impacting the role – recruitment. Although general search interest in the role has remained relatively stagnant for the past 5 years, the significant increase of career-related associated search terms (e.g. “medical science liaison salary”) suggests increased interest in the role as a career. Additional state-level analysis may aid hiring managers in MSL candidate recruitment efforts and medical directors in more accurate and efficient planning and organization of territories. More importantly, this analysis provides a framework for using this type of data towards addressing more complex aspects of the Medical Science Liaison role such as Key Opinion Leader identification, Key Opinion Leader engagement, and overall medical strategy. GT can also be a useful tool to gauge search patterns and overall sentiment surrounding a pharmaceutical company’s milestone events (i.e. major data readouts, publications, regulatory approvals). The collection of such data can inform pharmaceutical companies to tailor medical affairs strategies based on related search terms.
Conclusion and Future Directions
Despite the general uptrend in search interest for the MSL role, the past 5 years show a stagnation and slight downtrend. Additionally, regional interest in the role seems geographically constrained, with roughly the same states and regions making up the majority of regional searches. While this information is limited in scope (i.e. GT provides no demographics or other information other than search volume), it may be useful to consider trends in overall search interest (temporal and regional) for the MSL role, as they may lend useful insight into regions and timelines where increased outreach or recruitment is warranted. In addition to gaining general insight into overall trends, it may be practical for companies to adapt practices of social interest monitoring to identify emerging market trends well before they become commonplace. Additionally, as pointed out in the previous section, companies and hiring managers may find GT useful for supplementary recruitment or observational instrument. For now, GT does not collect and disseminate enough social data for this to be a practical methodology, but perhaps the emergence of a similar open-source framework will soon make this a practical and rewarding possibility.
Funding & Data in Brief
Timothy Bielecki is an employee of Sanofi Genzyme and his views are his own and do not necessarily represent those of his employer. For all raw data or inquiries, please contact Alec McCarthy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- The Evolution of the MSL. PharmaVOICE https://www.pharmavoice.com/article/2017-9-msl/.
- Baker, D. L. The Role of the Medical Science Liaison in Industry. AORN Journal 91, 394–398 (2010).
- Medical Science Liaison Jobs: The Best-Kept Secret in the Life Sciences Industry. BioSpace https://www.biospace.com/article/medical-science-liaison-jobs-the-best-kept-secret-in-the-life-sciences-industry/.
- Choi, H. & Varian, H. Predicting the Present with Google Trends. Economic Record 88, 2–9 (2012).
- Desktop Search Engine Market Share Worldwide. StatCounter Global Stats https://gs.statcounter.com/search-engine-market-share/desktop/worldwide.
- Nuti, S. V. et al. The Use of Google Trends in Health Care Research: A Systematic Review. PLOS ONE 9, e109583 (2014).
- Mavragani, A. & Gkillas, K. COVID-19 predictability in the United States using Google Trends time series. Scientific Reports 10, 20693 (2020).
- Tijerina, J. D. et al. Public Interest in Elective Orthopedic Surgery Following Recommendations During COVID-19: A Google Trends Analysis. Cureus (2020)
- The Medical Science Liaison Society. MSL Salary & Compensation – USA Results. (2020).
Figure 1. Global search engine market share over the last 10 years. Data Source = StateCounter©
Figure 2. Relative search volume for “medical science liaison”. (a) 10 year, (b) 5 year, and (c) 1 year temporal RSV for “medical science liaison” in the US. (d) 10 year, (e) 5 year, and (f) 1 year RSV for “medical science liaison” by state. Data Source = Google Trends
Figure 3. Regional RSV for “medical science liaison” with increasing color intensity corresponding to increased RSV. (a) 10 year, (b) 5 year, and (c) 1 year regional RSV. (d) Summary data for average RSV over each time interval. Data Source = Google Trends.
Figure 4. Frequency of searches of job titles equivalent to medical science liaison. Data Source = Google Trends
Table 1. Temporal search interest summary data over each time interval
|Timeline (years)||Average RSV||Date of Max||Slope||Directionality||Coefficient of Variation (%)|
|10||53.17 ± 19.39||July 2017||0.1804||+||36.47|
|5||30.75 ± 18.74||Feb 2017||0.006||+||60.93|
|1||43.09 ± 23.10||May 2020||-0.1184||–||53.7|
Table 2. Regional search interest summary data
|10 Year||5 Year||1 year|
|Maryland||81||NE||New Jersey||99||NE||New Jersey||67||NE|
|New York||59||NE||Ohio||70||MW||North Carolina||51||SE|
|Texas||52||SW||North Carolina||64||SE||New York||39||NE|
Table 3. GT-procured related search terms
|10 Years||5 Years||1 Year|
|medical science liaison salary||100||medical science liaison salary||100||medical science liaison jobs||100|
|medical science liaison jobs||97||medical science liaison jobs||86||medical science liaison salary||80|
|msl||32||what is a medical science liaison||16||–||–|
|what is a medical science liaison||13||9||–||–|
|medical science liaison job description||11||–||–||–||–|
|Rising||Change (+%)||Rising||Change (+%)||Rising||Change (+%)|
|medical science liaison training||Breakout||what is a medical science liaison||Breakout||–||–|
|medical science liaison salary||130||medical science liaison salary||50%||–||–|
|medical science liaison jobs||50||medical science liaison jobs||40%||–||–|
Table 4. GT-procured search topics
|10 Year||5 Year||1 Year|
|Top||Change (+%)||Top||Change (+%)||Top||Change (+%)|
|Science||100||Medical science liaison||100||Medical science liaison||100|
|Medical science liaison||94||Medicine||95||Science||82|
|Career||7||Pharmaceutical industry||6||Pharmaceutical industry||12|
|Oncology||5||Academic degree||4||Clinical research||4|
|Job description||3||Oncology||3||Doctor of Philosophy||2|
|Research||3||Medical Science Liaison Society||3||Pharmacist||2|
|Entry-level job||3||Job description||3||–||–|
|Academic degree||2||Clinical trial||2||–||–|
|Rising||Change (+%)||Rising||Change (+%)||Rising||Change (+%)|
|Academic degree||Breakout||Pharmaceutical drug||Breakout||Internship||Breakout|
|Novartis||Breakout||Physician assistant||Breakout||Pharmaceutical industry||500|
|Doctor of Philosophy||Breakout||Sanofi||Breakout||Clinical research||110|
|Merck & Co.||Breakout||Bayer||Breakout||–||–|
|Training||Breakout||Bachelor of Science||Breakout||–||–|
|Medical Science Liaison Society||Breakout||Doctorate||Breakout||–||–|
|Genetics||Breakout||Johnson & Johnson Inc||Breakout||–||–|
|Career||130||Medical Science Liaison Society||250||–||–|
Alec McCarthy received his BS in Biological Systems Engineering at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln in 2018 and is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Mary and Dick Holland Regenerative Medicine Program at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. His benchside research focuses on applied biomaterial engineering and his clinical research focuses on improving bone health in bariatric surgery patients. He hopes to break into an MSL role following the completion of his Ph.D.
Timothy Alan Bielecki
Tim Bielecki received his BA in Biology at Carleton College in 2011 and his Ph.D. in Cancer Biology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in 2017. Tim is currently a Solid Tumor Medical Science Liaison at Sanofi Genzyme and strives to digitally innovate the profession by using the skills and knowledge he gained from his past experiences.
Nick received his BA from Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota in 2015 and Ph.D. in Cancer Research from the University of Nebraska Medical Center in 2020. Nick has previous medical affairs experience with Takeda Oncology and E4 Health Group. Currently, Nick is a Medical Science Liaison at Karyopharm Therapeutics.