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For new therapeutics, the first six months after launch is the optimal time to create market share, and if this window is missed, the chance of success is significantly reduced. To make the most of this critical period, companies need to start engaging with key stakeholders at least 18 months before the planned launch. However, tight regulatory control limits the access that sales representatives can have to healthcare professionals. This is where medical science liaisons (MSLs) fit in, by providing a scientific bridge between biopharma and the healthcare professionals.

The role of the MSL

MSLs are highly trained and generally have a medical or scientific background. This level of scientific training is crucial to success in the role. It is this foundation that allows them to create a relationship with the healthcare team on a basis that is closer to a trusted peer-to-peer engagement, rather than the ‘transaction-based’ relationship between a customer and sales representative.

The value of MSLs is at its greatest two years before launch and the year or so after launch. This is when they build relationships with key therapeutic experts and other stakeholders, engaging these stakeholders in strategically valuable medical affairs projects that may build physician experience with the compound. The insight gained from engaging with external experts can be invaluable in guiding decision making leading up to product launch.

Ensuring your team is agile and flexible

It is critical that an MSL team is aligned to your business needs and this means a need for flexibility and agility in resourcing. Unless a company has a very consistent flow of products reaching the market, there will be periods when an in-house team of MSLs is under-used, or stretched to its limits. Using outsourced MSLs to supplement, or even replace, an in-house team of MSLs optimizes workload and ensures that people are available exactly when and where they are needed. Outsourced teams can be scaled up and down quickly to allow companies to respond rapidly to changing market dynamics, such as competitor launches, as well as taking the opportunities offered by new data and new markets.

This flexible model allows organisations to focus internal resources on the higher value medical projects that are strategically important, with the confidence that the day-to-day field medical demands are supported by an experienced outsourced field medical presence. Because MSLs are field-based, outsourced teams can also be recruited in specific geographic areas and with expertise in particular therapeutic areas, meaning that they already have networks of contacts within the expert medical community and bring experience of implementing field medical plans.

Recruiting and training MSLs

As well as their scientific acumen and talent for communications, MSLs need excellent interpersonal skills, in order to create relationships with both external and internal stakeholders, and integrate themselves into the broader organisation. They also need to be self-supporting as they are often working alone out in the field.

Recruitment of MSLs is a time-consuming process. Quintiles' outsourced MSL teams are recruited by our dedicated field medical affairs staffing team. These are people with the experience to find the right fit for your organisation. The skill-set of the team can be tailored in partnership between the outsourcing and biopharma companies, to fit the needs for experience, as well as match the organization's culture and values. The teams are then managed and supported to ensure strict compliance to ethical, regulatory and quality standards.

The key competencies that contribute most to success for MSLs include:

  • Up-to-date scientific knowledge and technical expertise, supported by emotional intelligence
  • Proactive, customer-focused and strategic relationship building
  • Clear verbal and written communications, tailored to the audience

Biopharma companies may be concerned that outsourced MSLs may leave to work with a competitor, taking valuable insider information with them. This risk can be mitigated by carefully-written contracts that include competitor clauses. However, working for an outsourcing provider has a wide range of advantages for the MSLs themselves, as it gives them greater opportunities for training, growth and career progression. It also combines the opportunity to work in different therapeutic areas, locations, companies and teams with the continuity of a single employer.

A fast and flexible path to market access

Using outsourced MSLs can make the route to market access a faster and more cost-effective process, making the most of the time up to and after launch and allowing in-house teams to focus on their core areas of expertise.