Since being first established by Upjohn Pharmaceuticals in 1967, Medical Science Liaisons (MSLs) have become increasingly more important to the success of the companies that employ them. As a result, the MSL profession has grown exponentially over the last several years, and according to a 2018 global survey conducted by the MSL Society, 68% of managers plan to expand the size of their MSL teams within the next two years.
Given the importance of the MSL role and it’s expected expansion, a compelling question is “Who are Medical Science Liaisons Today?”
One resource that can be used to answer the question of who makes up the role today, is the annual MSL Salary and Compensation Survey conducted by the MSL Society. This is the single largest survey conducted across the MSL profession and the 2019 edition included 1,978 MSL professionals from 71 countries. Evaluating the demographic data from the study reveals important insights into various characteristics of MSLs today including details about their academic background, years of experience, the types of companies they work for, and what therapeutic area or disease states they support.
One question often asked is whether the MSL profession is primarily made up of men or women. Although nearly equally divided amongst males and females, data from the 2019 MSL Salary and Compensation Survey reveals that both globally and in the U.S. women make up a slight majority of the MSL profession. (See Tables 1A and 1B)
Table 1A – Survey Question: “What is your gender?” – Global Results
Table 1B – Survey Question: “What is your gender?” – USA Results
In the late 1980’s, a number of companies began to require those applying to MSL roles to have a doctorate degree such as an MD, PharmD, or PhD. Today a doctorate degree has become the educational standard for the MSL profession. In fact, 86% of current MSLs in the U.S. and 79% of current MSLs globally, across all company types and all therapeutic areas have doctorate degrees.
The 2019 Salary and Compensation survey found that while the PhD is the most prevalent academic background among MSLs globally (41%), the PharmD is the most common doctoral degree held by 40% of MSLs in the United States. The higher prevalence of MSLs in the U.S. with a PharmD may be attributed to the fact that the PharmD degree has historically been primarily awarded in the United States. (See Tables 2A and 2B)
Table 2A – Survey Question: “What is your highest academic background?” – Global Results
Table 2B – Survey Question: “What is your highest academic background?” – USA Results
Years of Experience
Although there was a range of experience represented in the survey, the majority of MSLs both globally and in the United States, have 4 or less years of MSL experience. Furthermore, 42% of MSLs globally and 41% in the United States have 2 or less years of MSL experience. (See Tables 3A and 3B)
Table 3A – Survey Question: “How many years of MSL and/or MSL management experience do you have?” – Global Results
Table 3B – Survey Question: “How many years of MSL and/or MSL management experience do you have?” – USA Results
Where They Work
Although pharmaceutical, biotechnology, medical device, medical diagnostic, CRO and contract MSL organizations employ MSLs today, the data reveals that the vast majority of MSLs both globally (80%) and in the United States (77%) work at large, medium, and small pharmaceutical companies. (See Tables 4A and 4B)
Table 4A – Survey Question: “How would you classify your company?” – Global Results
Table 4B – Survey Question: “How would you classify your company?” – USA Results
Therapeutic Areas They Support
Although the survey included the option to select amongst 41 different therapeutic areas, the top seven (7) TA’s supported by MSLs in the United States were: Oncology (27%), CNS/Neurology (16%), Rare/Orphan Disease (13%), Immunology (10%), Cardiovascular/Thrombosis (9%), Hematology (9%), and Diabetes (7%).
Globally the top seven (7) TA’s were identical and only differ by the percentage of MSLs who selected them as their area of responsibility and included: Oncology (29%), CNS / Neurology (15%), Rare/Orphan Disease (12%), Immunology (11%), Cardiovascular/Thrombosis (11%), Hematology (10%), and Diabetes (9%).
Survey Question: What Therapeutic Area best describes your responsibility? (You may select more than one) – Global Results
2019 MSL Salary & Compensation Survey
Survey Question: What Therapeutic Area best describes your responsibility? (You may select more than one) – U.S.A. Results
2019 MSL Salary & Compensation Survey
For those interested in understanding who are Medical Science Liaisons today and the various characteristics of the role, evaluating demographic data from the 2019 MSL Salary & Compensation Survey conducted by the MSL Society reveals unique insights into the profession. This survey, which is conducted annually, provides the largest database of demographic data available for MSLs and MSL leaders. The data from the survey can be utilized to understand both current demographics as well as track changes or trends over time.