As researchers learn more about the pathways and mechanisms behind disease, and as competition in the market increases, treatments are becoming better tailored to patients. These include biologic drugs that target specific receptors, or immune-oncology therapies personalized to an individual's genetic profile, cancer type and stage.
While this approach can improve outcomes for patients, it can make administration of the treatment regimen more complex, for example using new companion diagnostics or delivery systems, or supporting patients with unfamiliar treatment reactions and side effects.
This potential lack of experience and familiarity can leave healthcare professionals reluctant to prescribe or use treatments and regimens that could have a significant impact on their patients' outcomes and quality of life. It can also leave the healthcare professionals, particularly those not involved in clinical trials, struggling with implementing patient education and access programs.
The relationship between biopharma and healthcare professional is strictly regulated, particularly before a drug is launched when the information that can be shared is limited. This is exacerbated by the fact that some doctors are refusing to see sales representatives, (even for launched products) and others who are willing to interact with sales teams are finding that their time is becoming squeezed by rising patient numbers and more paperwork. One solution is by providing clear medical and scientific data along with practical insights to drive evidence-based decision-making relevant to the real world, delivered through a network of medical science liaisons (MSLs).
MSLs: Providing education
MSLs can help facilitate the exchange of unbiased medical and scientific information between external experts and the pharmaceutical company. Because it's a scientific support rather than a sales role, MSLs don't have the same restrictions in access to healthcare professionals. Healthcare professionals may be more willing to meet with MSLs as non-sales professionals whose expertise in specific disease areas, along with academic qualifications in science or medicine, allows them to interact on a level that is closer to peer-to-peer. In a survey, key opinion leaders placed a 30% higher value on information from MSLs compared with sales and marketing teams.
MSLs can generate and disseminate complex medical information, and facilitate its communication with physicians and other healthcare professionals. In their role of a trusted advisor, an MSL can provide the healthcare professionals with access to tools and publications, educating them about the advances in the disease and its treatment and enabling appropriate use of new therapies.
The development of relationships between biopharma and healthcare professionals, fostered by the MSLs, is particularly important for complex or specialized indications, where the patient pool might be small and the drug carries a high price. This engagement benefits HCPs for example by allowing them to advance their research aims through collaboration in research projects (investigator initiated or company sponsored) or through involvement in strategic medical and scientific projects. This allows access to therapeutics ahead of launch, providing treatment benefits for patients, as well as opportunities for hands-on experience with new technologies and treatments.
In order to optimize their effectiveness, MSLs do need to be able to access the full range of remote tools and resources available, such as online meetings, e-detailing, webinars and lectures.
The MSL is more than just a bridge
MSLs can provide a bridge between biopharma and healthcare professionals, allowing them to engage and share scientific information from company to physicians and payers. However, their role is more than this. By creating a relationship, MSLs can help healthcare professionals to get involved in advisory boards, and therefore provide input into current and future pharmaceutical research, as well as improve the understanding of the HCP and patient and needs. MSLs and healthcare professionals, working together, can also provide the necessary scientific and medical information to allow decision making on inclusion in formulary and guidelines.
Though the major part of their role is with healthcare professionals, MSLs can also play an important role in supporting internal stakeholders including the broader medical affairs team, commercial and clinical development teams. MSLs can provide field insight to allow the company to tailor the value proposition and identify the medical and scientific claims and that will resonate with the HCP community. They can ensure the validity of the science in PR, communications, marketing and sales, contribute to internal training programs, and support the strategic development of phase IV, investigator-initiated and HEOR studies.
The growth of the MSL
The combination of the increase in personalized medicine, the ongoing squeeze of public sector budgets, and the sophistication of competition in the biopharma industry is putting pressure on sales and marketing teams. Adding into this the fact that 70% of KOLs would rather engage with an MSL than a member of a sales and marketing team means that the role of the field based scientific liaison is becoming increasingly important to the biopharmaceutical industry.