Emergence of Medical Science Liaisons as a Formidable Educational Force

One of the difficulties for those prescribing new medicines is keeping up to date with the latest developments from the pharmaceutical industry. A good scientific understanding of how newer and more complex medicines work will be crucial to clinical outcomes. Furthermore, a channel must be established between healthcare providers at the cutting edge of medicine and the pharmaceutical companies keen on innovating at the cutting edge of a disease state.

MSLs serve to educate
In order to meet this demand for better scientific exchange between thought leaders and pharmaceutical companies, the role of the medical science liaison (MSL) has emerged over the last 40 years and continues to evolve in the pharmaceutical industry. Medical science liaisons often have doctoral degrees (Ph.D., M.D., Pharm.D.), with extensive clinical research background in the therapeutic area they support.

Medical science liaisons facilitate collaborative research efforts between thought leaders (also
called key opinion leaders, or KOLs) and the company and provide scientific information to healthcare professionals. Thought leaders are becoming increasingly difficult to engage, and medical science liaisons have been successful in involving top-tier thought leaders in peer-to-peer discussions regarding therapeutic strategies and in the identification of clinical research opportunities. The role of MSLs is very much a scientific one and should not be confused with the role of the sales representative.

Field-based medical programs are expanding in the biopharmaceutical industry. In the past, the field-based medical program and its constituents, the medical science liaison (MSL), are well entrenched in large pharmaceutical companies. Now, biotechnology firms and mid-sized pharmaceutical companies are establishing medical liaison teams for pre-launch support and field-based activities in product life cycle management. Some device and diagnostic companies are also experimenting with the field-based medical science liaison concept.

MSLs provide value
Successful medical science liaisons foster productive relationships with key opinion
leaders through a consultative approach. Thought-leader development can encompass skills ranging from evaluating research sites, facilitating research proposals, presenting clinical data, moderating expert forums (“advisory boards”), and training physician speakers.

Medical science liaisons are also potentially exposed to situations involving ethical considerations, and ethical training is a crucial component of a productive tenure. As the pharmaceutical market internationalizes the ethics training must be global in its nature. Furthermore, as the regulatory environment is a dynamic one, customized training specific to the liaison role is beneficial for both new and seasoned medical liaisons.

The future is MSL
In the current market environment where healthcare professionals and patients both want reassurance concerning the pharmaceutical industry’s products, the role of the MSL has become increasingly crucial. Technical and commercial skills help the pharmaceutical industry bring its products to the market, but once launched, pharmaceutical companies cannot succeed in the long-term without continued and productive dialog with thought leaders who shape the standards of healthcare and research at the cutting edge of medicine.

MSLs originated in the United States, the world’s biggest pharmaceutical market, but as the industry globalizes, MSL programs are also beginning to take root in countries outside the United States. MSLs therefore have become a formidable educational force in the pharmaceutical industry, and the profession will only become increasingly important in the face of complex treatment paradigms.