The emergence of artificial intelligence (AI) has the potential to revolutionize the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries improving the efficiency and effectiveness of Medical Science Liaisons (MSLs) and Medical Advisors (MAs) in their daily activities. However, the awareness, understanding, and perceptions of these advanced technologies in these roles remain unclear. To bridge this knowledge gap, we have conducted a comprehensive survey targeting MAs and MSLs in the pharma and biotech sectors to assess their awareness of AI, their potential impacts on job performance and job security, and the current state of implementation within their respective organizations.
In this article, we will present the findings of our survey, which aims to provide insights into the level of acquaintance MAs and MSLs have with AI, their perceptions of the benefits and challenges associated with these technologies, and the factors that may influence their adoption in the industry. By understanding the current landscape of AI awareness among Medical Affairs professionals, we can identify areas where further education and support are needed to facilitate the successful integration of AI into their professional roles.
Whether AI is some fleeting mode is completely out of the equation, thus the only question is how long it will take before we all start using AI-powered devices, applications, etc.
We elaborated a Typeform survey collecting information about Medical Affairs Professionals from worldwide. The survey was shared in June 2023, and we defined a period of four months for data collection. The survey had 22 questions, which are focused on three main topics: previous knowledge about AI tools, predisposition to learn and stay up-to-date, and their opinion about possible uses and challenges in Medical Affairs. Thus, the first questions were about general personal data and then, we guided the participants looking for more specific responses about their knowledge in AI.
Our communication plan was based on the dissemination of the survey through the professional social network LinkedIn, following a strategy of one post uploaded per week.
Finally, out of the 200 people who initially participated, 119 participants fully completed the survey. For the analysis, we only considered the responses of the 119 participants who finished the survey. At the end of the stipulated time, we analyzed these responses, and we summarized the most relevant findings in this article.
Analyzing the participants’ characteristics, the most represented country was Spain with 68,1% of answers, followed by the USA (10,9%) and Brazil (3,4%), amongst 19 other countries worldwide. Regarding the professional role, 50,4% of participants included were MSLs, 21,8% were Medical Advisors, and 14,3% were MSL Heads. From all participants, 33,6% of respondents had less than 2 years of experience, 33,6% had between 2 and 5 years, and 32,8% had over 6 years of expertise.
Thus, the next questions were designed to understand the level of familiarization of Medical Affairs employees with AI. In this context, 56,3% of respondents affirmed being able to define AI in one sentence and 64,7% to be familiar with AI in their daily work, which highlights a solid awareness of AI in this sector. Furthermore, 84,8% claimed to be confident (51,2% somewhat and 33,6% very confident) about their ability to adapt to new technologies like AI in their roles.
We then asked about the resources that could be helpful in order to enhance their understanding of AI and its massive potential and applicability. In this sense, more than 68% considered practical workshops and online training courses as key activities, followed by informative webinars (52,2%), guidelines (43,3%), and conferences (32,5%), respectively (Figure 1). Nevertheless, only 20,2% confirmed to have been trained or informed about specific sessions on AI fostered by their companies, while more than 50% stated to not received any information/training at all. The rest had only been notified about possible concerns and challenges the use of AI could imply in their companies (23,5%).
Figure 1. Useful resources for increasing AI understanding.
Furthermore, up to 50% were not aware of AI-powered tools in their companies, whereas only 4,2% of them were aware and daily users. Ultimately, to the question of whether their companies had already implemented or were considering implementing AI, valuable data were generated. In this regard, while 44,5% were currently considering it, only 10,9% have done it. In this sense, 25,2% were unsure about it and 19,3% were not considering it at all.
These preliminary results demonstrated that survey respondents are highly qualified workers with decent notions and interest in AI and a strong commitment to its implementation in Medical Affairs, even though their companies seem still to be cautious or even slightly hesitant about it. On this matter, according to them, the main factors that may influence the adoption of AI in the pharmaceutical and biotechnological sectors are regulatory concerns (85%), followed by the readiness of the industry (55%), the field force adaptability (50,8%) and the cost (45%) (Figure 2).
Figure 2. Factors that may influence AI adoption in the pharma/biotech industry.
Moving a step ahead, we asked which strategies should their organizations adopt to ensure a smooth transition to AI. The responses collected reckoned that the first measure companies should do is to promote training and educational programs about AI (43,3%). Also, additional strategies could include running pilot projects to test the feasibility of AI implementation (30,8%). Ultimately, a gradual implementation and collaboration with AI developers were considered last of almost equal necessity (13,3% and 12,5%, respectively) (Figure 3).
Figure 3. Strategies to ensure a smooth transition into AI.
We then asked about the direct impact that AI may have in their daily activities. Interestingly, over 67,2% of the survey respondents considered that AI is not a threat to their positions. Moreover, while half of them were unsure, but not worried about AI being routinely used in the next 2 years in Medical Affairs, over 31,9% were totally convinced about the future use of AI in their daily work. Meanwhile, 16,8% were either resistant to this idea or worried about it.
Regarding the main daily tasks that could be enhanced by AI implementation, data analysis (85,8%) and publications research (80,8%) were the most voted options as those with the biggest potential, followed by resources to improve slide kits (66,7%) and ideas gathering for projects development and management (66,7%). Other AI-improvable segments valued by respondents were medical information responses to healthcare professionals (60%), email response suggestions (58,3%) and tailoring educational materials (53,3%) (Figure 4).
Figure 4. Potential tasks enhanced by AI.
With respect to this notion about AI’s future perspective, over half of the participants affirm that AI will revolutionize the Medical Affairs field in the long term and over 20% in the short one. These results clearly confirm that the majority of Medical Affairs employees, despite not being sure about its immediate implementation, are aware of AI’s huge potential. Focusing on the engagement with healthcare professionals (HCPs), about 55% of the respondents said that AI will be a gamechanger when it comes to boosting the efficiency of their interactions (Figure 5), although 68,1% of the participants affirm that HCPs are less prepared than the medical affairs professionals regarding the readiness to implement any AI novelties.
Figure 5. Efficiency of AI in visits to clinicians.
Besides, more than 40% thought that AI could improve communication between the different stakeholders in the pharmaceutical industry whereas only 7,6% believed it wouldn’t, and 25,2% were unsure about it.
As possible challenges that medical affairs professionals may face in the implementation of AI, almost 40% of the respondents consider the lack of knowledge/training as the main factor, followed by data privacy concerns, quality of scientific content and truthfulness of the AI resources, with 19,2% 17,5% and 15,8% respectively (Figure 6).
Figure 6. Main challenges of AI implementation.
What seems clear is that in the upcoming years, AI’s biggest challenge will certainly be overcoming ethical concerns before its full integration into society’s day-to-day lives. In this regard, 40% of respondents reckon data privacy to be the most important worry, followed by the reliability of the information source and AI-based decisions over a human criterion, accounting for 29,2% and 25,8% of the answers, respectively (Figure 7).
Figure 7. Ethical concerns regarding AI implementation.
This survey has generated suggestive data on the potential impact of AI in Medical Affairs, as well as the main concerns and challenges that may arise both in the short and long term. Even though some doubtfulness, concerns, and contradictory thoughts have been raised about this topic, more than ¾ of the respondents consider that AI can improve the performance of Medical Affairs professionals. These results underline the importance of investing in AI-related tools in order to increase efficiency, provide valuable content, and boost the engagement with healthcare professionals in a constantly changing society.
To continue with this study, increasing the sample of participants and extending the time interval of the survey would be useful to improve the significance of the outcomes. Likewise, a wider international outreach would provide a broader view of the role of AI in Medical Affairs in different countries.
About the authors:
In 2015 he obtained a Bachelor’s Diploma in Biotechnology from the Polytechnic University of Valencia (UPV). In 2018 he obtained a Master’s in Molecular Medicine from the Goethe University of Frankfurt. During the Master´s practical period, he performed a 6-months-long internship at UC Berkeley in one of Dr. Jennifer Doudna’s satellite laboratories. He completed his undergraduate studies with a Bachelor’s and a Master’s Thesis both with honors. In November 2022, he obtained his PhD in Neurosciences from the Autonomous University of Barcelona with international and cum laude mentions. In July 2023 he received his MBA in Pharma and Biotech jointly organized by ESAME Business School and Universidad Alfonso X. Currently he is working at Novartis AG with a 1-year fellowship from ESAME Business School.
Ana Ferrero Andrés
Graduate in Biology from the University of Salamanca. Master in Integrative Physiology from the University of Barcelona and PhD in Biomedicine from the University of Barcelona and the Institute of Biomedical Research of Barcelona, a center associated with the network of the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC). Subsequently, she completed a postdoctoral project at the Josep Carreras Research Institute and, in June 2023, she finished her MBA in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry at ESAME Pharmaceutical Business School. She works as an intern as a Junior Market Access in the biotech company Amgen, in its subsidiary in Barcelona. Currently, she works as a consultant in Omakase, a company specializing in pharmaceutical Market Access.
With a strong scientific background, she earned a Ph.D. in Biomedicine and a postdoc at Harvard Medical School. This experience ignited her passion for translational medicine, leading to a transition into the pharma and biotech industries. Her prior role as a Life Science consultant for major pharma companies inspired her to pursue an MSL role. Recently, she obtained an MBA from ESAME to further enhance her expertise in these dynamic fields.
Hello! My name is Carlota Olmos and I am from Barcelona, Spain. I graduated in
Biomedicine and I hold an MBA in Pharma Biotech Industry. I am currently working as an MSL in Oncology at Sanofi, with previous experience at Novartis in customer engagement as well as I+D, scientific communication, and education. I am a curious, creative, proactive, hard-working, energetic, and open-minded person, and my purpose is to make a positive impact to improve patients’ lives.
Graduated in Pharmacy at the Ramon Llull University (IQS – Blanquerna) and specialized in drug synthesis and design. Completed her final thesis on Exosomes loaded with doxorubicin: a new controlled release system for melanoma therapy in the Materials Engineering group (GEMAT), led by Dr. Borrós and supervised by Cristina Fornaguera. In 2023 she obtained an MBA in Pharmaceutical Industry Biotech at ESAME and is currently in the marketing department of the Spanish subsidiary of LEO Pharma.
Graduated in Pharmacy at the Ramon Llull University (IQS – Blanquerna) and specialized in drug synthesis and design. Completes her final degree project: Synthesis and feasibility study of the separation of cathinone enantiomers by crystallization of diastereomeric salts in IQS. In 2022 she obtained a Master’s in Scientific Departments of the Pharmaceutical Industry from ESAME and currently works as a Medical Advisor in Angelini Pharma Spain.
Claudia Conesa holds a degree in Pharmacy and a Pharma MBA. She has more than 4 years of experience in the Pharmaceutical Biotech industry in the Medical Affairs and R&D department. She is currently a MSL in Amgen, with responsibility in Bone Metabolism, Neuroscience and Inflammation.
Victor Sastre, MSc, MSL-BC
Victor has more than 20 years of experience in the pharmaceutical biotech industry, Medical Affairs, and R&D. Professor in several master’s and Pharma MBA Coordinator. Passionate and author of various publications related to the MSL position. He is currently a Senior MSL Head in Amgen, with responsibility for Bone Metabolism, Neuroscience, and Inflammation. Victor has previous experience at Parke-Davis and Pfizer. In 2018, he received the MSL Award of the Year-Outside USA from the MSL Society. Victor is also a Board-Certified Medical Science Liaison (MSL- BC®).