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Emerging Increase in Medical Science Liaisons in Clinical Development

June 8, 2021

In today’s biopharmaceutical industry, there is a growing disconnect between the level of knowledge handled by a new drug's researchers and that possessed by practitioners, hospital administrators and decision-makers in local regulatory agencies.

To address this gap, sponsors and CROs are now recruiting an MSL or “Medical Science Liaisons”.  Even in fields where recruiting an MSL was already common, such as oncology or rare diseases, MSLs are quickly seeing their role expanded.

What is a Medical Science Liaison?

A Medical Science Liaison (MSL) is a therapeutic expert who specializes in communicating the complex scientific information involved during the Research and Development process, to other physicians.

Over the years, MSLs have also begun to play a role in strengthening ties with regulatory officials, and in communicating the effectiveness or real-world outcomes of a drug to the general public.  MSLs also play a key role in recruiting Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs), who are often looking for as much information as possible before publicly supporting a drug.

In this sense, MSLs are usually tasked with building bridges between the R&D team, the clinicians, and the commercial team.

Strengths of an effective Medical Science Liaison

An MSL needs a rare combination of technical and social skills. Their day-to-day tasks will involve communicating with a variety of stakeholders, many of whom will have different degrees of familiarity with the required subspecialty, or may work in a different one altogether.

The relationships developed by an MSL should go both ways: by liaising with other professionals, or even with patient advocacy groups, they can gather insights that can help future business strategy. For a Marketing team, this information can be invaluable. As a result, the demand for MSLs is steadily growing.\(^1\)

What does a Medical Science Liaison do?

In many ways, an MSL is a customer-facing medical expert. An MSL may be engaged in any of the following areas:

  • They may help involve KOLs, and encourage them to attend corporate medical activities
  • As external experts, they can contribute in positioning the product within the research community
  • They can help spread awareness of a new developing product across the wider medical community
  • Throughout the process, they can provide medical and scientific education for key stakeholders
  • After launch, they can improve patient’s access to the drug by facilitating local HTA processes.\(^2\)

Medical Science Liaisons through the Product Development Lifecycle

Traditionally, MSLs are often seen as part of the post-clinical trial phase, when they are brought in to help gather scientific advice from regulatory authorities. However, a robust medical strategy can involve an MSL during all stages of the product lifecycle.

Early Research and Development

Before the clinical trial stage begins, an MSL can approach key opinion leaders (KOLs) and raise their interest about the future product. They can help disseminate the mode of action, or the expected advantages, of the new molecule being studied. 

At this point, they can also gage the reaction of clinicians or patients, and gather information for medical strategy plans.

Pre-launch

During the pre-launch process, an MSL can continue using these pre-established relationships with KOLs. They can collaborate in order to increase their understanding of the new drug and presenting data at scientific meetings or symposia.

Furthermore, MSLs can help close any information gaps before launch, and start the implementation of the investigator-led study program.

Launch

Here, a talented MSL can acquire new prominence. They can share clinical evidence with KOL related to the drug’s indications and dosages. By supporting the medical plan during the launch, the MSL will help push the product’s future commercial success.

Post-launch

At this point, investigator-led study plans are usually implemented. This is a good opportunity for an MSL to provide continued medical education, address prescribers’ questions, and help disseminate related publications. 

Often, these tasks often involve generating real-world data, which will point at the possible concerns or needs posed by KOLs. This usually involves establishing possible adverse-reaction registries or more comprehensive observational studies.

What advantages can an MSL bring to the process?

The rising demand of talented MSLs, as well as the relatively rare combination of talents required to perform the necessary tasks, means that enlisting one throughout the drug development process can be expensive. Often, sponsors who are struggling to keep their clinical trial within budget may see this as an unnecessary extra expense.

Nonetheless, an MSL can bring the following advantages, which may in turn help save costs and time in the long run.

Strategic flexibility

An MSL can help increase your R&D’s team strategic flexibility by:

  • Helping deploy medical resources opportunely to meet any arising needs
  • Managing the workload peaks that occur during the product launch process or a marketing campaign
  • Setting off preparation plans to deal with an impending product patent expiry
  • Increasing the public impact of the public launch.

For these advantages to be reaped, an MSL must be able to focus on a company’s core portfolio, and prioritize resource allocation. Simultaneously, he or she should be open to any arising ambitious opportunities or strategies.

Tactical Flexibility

With regards to marketing strategies, an MSL can also provide a greater degree of tactical adaptability. This can translate in better-allocated resources throughout the product development cycle. By strengthening the overall work of the Medical Affairs team, they can help the organization adapt to changing market dynamics.

If empowered to take rapid and impactful decisions, this will help the drug’s commercial efforts a step ahead from the competitor’s developments.

Compliance and Risk Management

Finally, the multidisciplinary knowledge possessed by a Medical Science Liaison can help improve adherence to all relevant legislation. In order to take advantage of this, all the different team members will have to understand their roles, and be able to collaborate effectively. Each person’s role should be well-defined, and work harmoniously with the tasks assigned to others.

How Dokumeds can help

From its foundation, Dokumeds has made it a priority to recruit and retain the most promising talent in each field. When designing the company’s Clinical Medical Services portfolio, Dokumeds paid extra attention to attract experienced MSLs to supervise different teams. 

As a result, Dokumeds can now tailor the services each MSL offers to each Sponsor according to the project’s specific needs. This starts from the early development or clinical trial stage, and follows the product through pre-launch, launch and post-launch, bridging the gaps between all development phases. 

Dokumeds can assist Sponsors in finding the best model to ensure full MSL support. Depending on the Sponsor’s needs, Dokumeds can simply help select and recruit MSLs in the region of interest, or provide a full scope of services, including additional support services (Pharmacovigilance, Market Access, etc).

References

  1. https://medicalaffairs.org/training-medical-science-liaisons-msl/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5296921/

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