To educate and to inform. In modern society, those are the pillars of the Medical Science Liaison’s objectives. MSLs keep the Key Opinion Leaders apprised of what is emerging in the drug development pipeline. They also answer any questions that may arise. MSLs strive to obtain key information from KOLs and HCPs, but they also can help explain therapies and answer potential off-label questions. That being said, the MSL’s duties have changed greatly over time. Naturally, this role has evolved over the years. According to an article by Chris Watson, “in 1967, Upjohn introduced the MSL role, and MSLs were originally part of the Commercial team. The role aimed at building a rapport with Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) in certain disease areas. The first MSLs were experienced sales representatives with some scientific background.” While modern MSLs do maintain rapport and build valuable relationships with KOLs, their role rests firmly outside of the commercial arm of pharmaceutical and biotech companies and has progressed to a scientific, medically focused lens. MSL activities have greatly changed over the years; some of the ways they have changed include strategy, subject knowledge, as well as tools.
In the past, pharmaceutical companies’ successes used to be measured by the effectiveness of their salesforces. Over the past approximately 50 years, the role of the MSL has morphed greatly. As previously mentioned, MSLs were initially commercial. The role has undergone an evolution alongside the pharmaceutical companies. One of the main catalysts in the historical shift in the MSL role was a demand for more thorough discussions of the drug development pipeline. According to an article written by Denise Myshko, “part of what is driving the MSL evolution is a transfer of investment dollars from the large, relatively undifferentiated sales forces of the past to a much higher level of specialists who have scientific expertise and a higher level of skill-focused on payers and providers.” She goes on to say that the MSL function has indeed shifted from a commercial focus to a scientific one. Therefore, this change in the pharmaceutical industry filtered through to the MSL role and created more urgency and demand for subject experts. Myshko goes on to mention that “the role of the MSL is changing as larger healthcare trends impact the development of new therapies. Today’s therapies require highly specialized conversations with physicians and key opinion leaders.” Ideally, the modern MSL combines the upbeat, friendly personality and rapport of past MSLs with the scientific knowledge needed in the modern pharmaceutical world.
At the beginning of 2020, life as we knew it changed forever. A large percentage of people shifted to remote work, and a lot of the pharmaceutical industry followed suit. Emails, calls, and tools like Zoom, WebX, Teams, and others became par for the course. In a previous submission, I noted the informative study conducted by H1 regarding Medical Science Liaison actions during the Coronavirus pandemic and the KOL perspective in response to them. While there were many fascinating points derived from the study, one of the most timely ones regarded virtual meetings as part of the MSL arsenal. Pre-pandemic, video meetings weren’t as popular as they are now. The study showed that video meetings have been extremely well-received by KOLs. In the study, only 3% of KOLs surveyed found that virtual scientific discussions with MSLs were not at all effective. Even with the increase in vaccinations and a general decrease in covid positivity rates across the country, this should be read as a reinforcing factor! What was once an uncommon meeting format is a commonplace meeting option and a popular one at that.
Over the years, the MSL role has changed to be more scientific and informative, rather than commercial, following pharmaceutical trends. Additionally, with the onset of the coronavirus, there has been an impetus for creativity and innovation with meeting solutions. Working with a changing industry and finding solutions is part of the MSL role, and it’s a part that has stayed to this day.
Maria is a member of the Business Development team at H1 in New York City. Maria studied Psychology and Spanish at Colgate University, where she also developed a significant interest in the way the healthcare ecosystem communicates across disparate channels. During her career so far, Maria has demonstrated a detailed and attentive eye for new and emerging data trends, particularly as it is related to the healthcare market. When she’s not helping out at H1, she enjoys running, reading, and staying up to date on current events and politics.