Building best-in-class MSL functions – evolution or revolution? Part 1

Medical Science Liaisons (MSLs) and MSL leaders from over 25 pharmaceutical and biotech companies gathered at the Royal College of General Practitioners in London on 28 November 2019 to celebrate the unveiling of the new One MSL platform and to participate in panel discussions with industry experts.

The One MSL platform offers aspiring MSLs, MSLs and Medical Managers the opportunity to connect and learn plus a comprehensive range of resources designed to support both individuals and organizations in building best-in-class capabilities.

Looking to the future, One MSL previewed the 2020 launch of One Academy which will deliver a series of accredited programmes and state-of-the-art blended learning.

Panel discussion:

The first panel of the meeting was titled “Building a best-in-class MSL function”.

Turning to the findings of the 2018 MSL Excellence Survey (with data from 230 MSLs from 26 countries), Helen Kane ran through the challenges presented to the MSL of today. These individuals need not only to be the external face of Medical Affairs and a scientific ambassador, but also a key strategic partner with essential competencies ranging across scientific and technical expertise, communication skills and business acumen. Among the issues identified are those relating to role clarity, onboarding, travel, having multiple priorities, the need for upskilling support, budget restraints, and career opportunities.

The panel highlighted four things to focus on:

  • Accelerating understanding of new data in the context of a VUCA world and providing scientific leadership.
  • Harnessing insights described as “the MSL currency” especially in terms of implementation and feedback to MSLs.
  • Engaging with new customers – pharmacists, pathologists, precision medicine, payers, patient advocacy groups. Simplifying customer engagement with fewer visits covering the same therapeutic area.

The panel discussed with the audience the confusion that physicians have around the MSL role.  The average physician does not care about the difference between “commercial” and “non-promotional”, the latter being the industry’s attempt to differentiate MSLs from the Commercial function.

The MSL role is one for “superheroes”, suggesting that it is “pretty hard” for Medical to be considered as a strategic function and not as a service.  Medical tends to be “very bad” at “marketing” what they do to colleagues in the business. If you don’t have good leadership and business skills, Medical is unlikely to be perceived as strategic.

When trying to build a “best-in-class function” the panel agreed that the term must be viewed through the lens of “what is best in class for the company right now” as well as the size and aspirations of the specific organisation.  The company needs to bring in consistency and standards in terms of attracting the right people into the organisation, providing support, onboarding, and communicating outwards in the right way.

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