MSLs: Balancing the role pre- and post-launch
By: Peter Rutherford, MD, PhD | August 09, 2016
Medical science liaisons, or MSLs, play an important role from pre-launch, helping companies engage with healthcare professionals while keeping companies within local and national codes of practice, such as the ABPI code and the PhRMA code. There are opportunities to tap into the experience of these individuals before launch, around launch and once the drug is on the market; however, the MSL role remains non-promotional throughout.
MSLs working pre-launch
In the two years or more pre-launch, MSLs are a company’s main direct route to engaging with healthcare professionals. They respond to queries, support investigators in clinical trials and collect insights in their conversations with healthcare professionals. They then share these insights within the biopharma company’s Medical Affairs team to assist clinical development, evidence generation strategy and creation of medical strategy and plans. During this period, roles are very clear, with the MSL team members taking their lead in terms of activities and priorities from the clinical development and medical affairs teams.
During and post-launch
In the three months closer to launch, the roles of the MSLs begin to change, as the strategic direction shifts away from clinical development, and towards commercialisation. As the drug moves closer to launch, companies begin to recruit or allocate sales and marketing teams. The MSLs will provide increasing levels of internal support to the commercial team, while maintaining their engagement with healthcare professionals and, of course, remaining non-promotional. This can make interactions more complex, particularly as field-based commercial teams may see their arrival as signalling a change in the MSLs’ relationships with key opinion/therapy leaders.
Facing the challenges and filling the gaps
During and post-launch, commercial teams may see the roles of MSLs as simply providing in-house scientific support, dealing with questions from healthcare professionals about off-label use of drugs, or answering complex scientific queries. However, MSLs can provide much more than this, by working as part of the team responsible for the brand launch from a non-promotional perspective. Examples including:
MSLs can provide important support to the brand beyond drug approval and launch. They can add considerable value to the brand, healthcare professionals and patients through their significant scientific knowhow, extensive networks and experience in communications, without the promotional ‘spin’ that is expected from sales and marketing teams. It is this non-promotional perspective that allows them privileged access to healthcare professionals, and helps maintain trust and credibility. It’s important, though, to ensure that these interactions remain compliant and firmly non-commercial, for example avoiding joint calls with healthcare professionals alongside field-based sales teams, in order to retain compliance to industry codes.