In the last few years, Medical Affairs has taken on more responsibilities within the life science industry. During the pandemic, access to thought leaders (TLs) became more difficult. Subsequently, research from the MSL Society showed that TLs valued peer-to-peer engagement. This led to TLs being more accessible to medical science liaisons (MSLs). This in turn increased the importance of the MSL relationship with TLs. To make the most of this relationship, MSLs now require the new competency of business acumen. Applying business acumen can help MSLs be more strategic in their activities with both external and internal stakeholders, but to accomplish that, MSLs must understand business acumen in an actionable way. Business acumen has two key parts that are relevant to the MSL role: business knowledge and strategic thinking and planning.
Business knowledge is about understanding how an organization runs. This includes understanding the different pillars of the organization in terms of the value they contribute to broader organizational goals, objectives, and revenue generation. Having this awareness is important because it helps the MSL align the insights they gather with organizational needs and aims. For example, the Commercial pillar is sales-orientated and revenue-incentivized, concentrating on launch and post-launch activities delivering medical products to providers and patients. MSL-collected insights related to market access are important for commercial; without access to the product, patients will not be able to fill the medication. Research and development (R&D, or clinical), on the other hand, has the end goal of submitting the product for FDA approval. This team is involved with pipeline development, including pre-clinical, and phase 1-4 clinical studies. Insights about new drug indications would be especially valuable for stakeholders in this pillar. Medical Affairs, where MSLs/field medical sit, are the link between R&D and Commercial. Medical Affairs support pre-launch, launch, and post-launch activities. MSLs play a key role in those activities by engaging regional and national TLs and gaining insights to help inform strategy.
The second part of business acumen is strategic thinking and planning. Strategic thinking involves identifying ways to gain insights that are aligned with the organization’s strategy and objectives. MSLs might use various frameworks, like SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats), to identify key themes and prepare questions to seek insights that inform strategic objectives (e.g. signal seeking TL/investigator studies for label extension post-launch). This kind of strategic thinking supports cross-functional alignment and provides direction for MSLs to develop action plans for achieving their goals and objectives related to TL interaction. Strategically minded MSLs may use another framework, like SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timebound) for each TL to ensure their interactions are actionable and measurable. SMART goals specify what an MSL is trying to achieve within their territory and for each TL. To achieve these in practice, the MSL prepares its goals and tactics to align with the medical affairs’ strategic objectives.
Being strategic isn’t just for interacting with external stakeholders but also with internal stakeholders. Cross-functional alignment is essential for Medical Affairs organizations and may involve MSLs treating internal stakeholders like external stakeholders, i.e. preparing a SWOT analysis and SMART goals for these interactions as well.
Understanding business acumen gives MSLs the ability to think and act strategically in all interactions. Engagements must be thoughtfully aligned with the needs of your stakeholder. Having a strong understanding of the market landscape, business needs and stakeholder interests, and knowledge gaps are important for MSLs to support the appropriate use of medical products that lead to improved patient outcomes. Therefore, strategically minded MSLs ensure their interactions are both customized to the external and internal stakeholder interests/needs and aligned to the organizations’ strategic objectives. Executed well, MSLs support the medical affairs organization’s efforts to demonstrate the value to the broader organization. This will enable you to level up as an MSL
Rina Patel, MD
Rina is responsible for leading the strategic planning and management of a team of Regional Medical Directors who will serve as Medical Affairs Project Leads for our clients and be responsible for tactical execution, managing the operations, and oversight of a given project. She leads and drives the implementation of the strategic vision, direction, and deployment of the Field Medical Affairs team. She also monitors and provides timely insights on emerging clinical and scientific trends to identify opportunities and potential issues that may affect medical affairs field roles and adjust strategy in response to changes.
Rina has strong business acumen experience in managing field medical affairs teams, gathering and communicating insights to multiple stakeholders, providing a medical review in clinical development, identifying, and addressing safety concerns, along with developing and executing medical strategy.
Rina did her undergraduate studies at Drake University and received her Doctor of Medicine from St. Matthews University. She recently received a Leadership and Management Certificate from Wharton School of Business.
Some achievements include successfully managing a national field medical affairs team with the implementation of a customer medical affairs strategy, along with creating customized dashboards for external stakeholder relationship advancement. Worked cross-functionally with real-world evidence, clinical development, medical information, safety, market access, and sales. Rina has more than 10 years of combined experience in clinical, academic, and life science industries in a variety of therapeutic areas.
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