Medical Science Liaisons: An Overview

Medical science liaison programs are expanding in today’s biopharmaceutical industry. This overview examines key roles of a medical science liaison.

Medical science liaisons are therapeutic specialists with advanced scientific training and degrees in life sciences (doctorates, advanced professional healthcare degrees, or masters in science). Majority of medical science liaisons currently in industry are Doctors of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.), with a smaller percentage holding Ph.D. or M.D. degrees. While many pharmaceutical companies require advanced degrees, healthcare professionals without an advanced scientific degrees but have extensive industry experience in a given therapeutic area are often considered. Excellent scientific aptitude is critical to productive interactions between medical science liaisons and thought leaders who are research pioneers and authorities in a therapeutic field.

Medical science liaison programs have an integral place in the life-cycle development of a product within a therapeutic area. Medical science liaisons are critical in the positive positioning of a company’s therapeutic capability in a given geography at a given product life cycle. Positive positioning at the pre- and post-launch phase of a product is the top priority of medical science liaisons and is achieved through sustained interactions with thought leaders. The establishment of trust in a medical science liaison-thought leader relationship results from consistent demonstration of scientific expertise and satisfactory follow-through to requests from thought leaders.

Medical science liaisons have other responsibilities within the organization, and interact with other functioning teams. However, the top priority of a medical science liaison is cultivating thought leader relationships. Medical science liaisons actively engage in activities that support the strategic direction of a product. Therefore, medical science liaisons are exposed to key decision makers both within the organization and outside the company. As catalysts of collaboration between pharmaceutical companies and thought leaders, medical science liaisons are essential conduits to the quality and success of transmission of timely information, research resources, and business intelligence.

Prominent field-based medical programs are implemented in most pharmaceutical companies. Many biotechnology firms also employ medical science liaisons as key sources of contact with thought leaders for a therapeutic area. In a 1999 survey, medical science liaison groups were reported to be present in more than half of the 58 responding pharmaceutical and biotechnology organizations (Morgan et al). Some biotechnology ventures implement medical science liaison programs before the establishment of formal sales forces, particularly those companies with products still in clinical trials and not yet commercially available. This underscores the primary role of a medical science liaison to secure the company’s presence in the therapeutic market, and reinforces a demand for growth in field-based medical programs.

(c) by Jane Chin, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved.