Since a few years ago, the presence of Medical Science Liaisons (MSLs), have been gaining strength within the pharmaceutical industry. The position has been assumed by healthcare professionals (nurses, chemists, biologists, biochemists, physicians, obstetricians) who reinforce their careers with postgraduate studies in the areas related to the position for example epidemiology and clinical research.
Regardless of the profession, the MSLs have reached an outstanding role because science is the backbone of the position and they work to find out the answers to the questions that come from physicians to provide them with the highest level of scientific evidence, also, MSLs promote clinical trials for new molecules, new indications, even post-marketing studies.
However, the MSL role, for some years, has been differentiated depending on the country where it takes place. For example, before we could state that the MSL role was similar in different countries, the fact is that the figure currently changed. In countries like the USA, Europe, and in some Latin American countries they still retain a pure scientific role, which does not exclude that the MSLs need to know and keep close the company indicators where they work.. Otherwise, In the last 5 years, the MSL role has changed remarkably.
When I talk about the change in the role I mean that some countries have added certain functions to the MSL role for several reasons that I would like to comment on very briefly below.
Countries that are part of a Cluster within the pharmaceutical company
Many times, management positions are far away and cannot have frequent contact with medical leaders, key opinion leaders, or stakeholders from other countries who could also respond, this has an impact on the local MSL having active participation in meetings and assuming functions that the medical manager should attend to, since the onset of the pandemic, the MSL has been involved in more activities like these. Some examples of these participations are meetings with payers, presentations to pharmacotherapy committees, meetings with presidents or boards of medical associations, foundations and patient associations, financials meetings, and meetings with cost control executives and healthcare technologies executives.
Likewise, the Cluster MSL takes some internal flow approvals responsibility in the company. These approvals include a review of materials for the salesforce, global material´s adaptations to local needs, material for external distribution review, among others; furthermore, in some cases, they review label´s updates, technical sheets, and other materials sent by regulatory affairs.
Other MSL Cluster responsibilities are the owners of the budget assigned to the therapeutic area of medical affairs, which means having contact with agencies and vendors to make an adequate and timely expense monitoring, and in some operations, the up or down budget deviations can be part of the KPIs
The MSL´s main function is not what we have described above, however that is what I am trying to convey in this article. MSLs in some Latin American countries play a hybrid MSL role, being responsible for scientific, access, regulatory, logistics issues, among others.
All this is a huge advantage for the MSL that performs the function because they are going beyond the scientific knowledge of many other processes of the company.
Companies have established standards to evaluate MSLs metrics. Naturally, these metrics are analyzed together, the company evaluates equally the performance of all MSLs in the region and is where they frequently find differences that could be considered as an MSL´s inefficient development in countries where the role is hybrid because the MSLs are immersed in other processes of the company that demands more effective time outside the territory.
Some pharmaceutical companies intend to consider these functions within the MSL´s role, in this way there is a real evaluation of their work, and all other areas of the company know the scope of their role. Even in the beginning of this transformation, the pharmaceutical companies have changed the roles name to Medical Advisor or Medical Manager and the Cluster Medical Manager takes a new role as Therapeutic Area Head. In those companies, we see specific job descriptions with different requirements such as MBA studies and other skills such as communication, negotiation, soft skills, etc.
We see that the MSL´s role is not only taking greater importance, also greater amplitude and they are being customized according to each operation. I think that there are new challenges ahead for MSLs and there is still a long way to go. Changes in health systems, the demand for new scientific evidence, new therapies, changes in the assessment of healthcare technologies, and the payer´s assessment will continue to have an impact on the MSL´s role. I am fully confident that MSL´s are prepared to adapt to new company needs and at the same time keep the scientific soul that maintains us in the role.
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