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February 10, 2020

What is a medical science liaison?

These professionals play an important and growing role within life science organizations.
What is a medical science liaison?

In the last several years, medical science liaisons (MSLs) have expanded their original roles to occupy an important place within pharmaceutical and medical device companies. They help their organizations develop, produce, and market life-changing therapies that improve patient lives by collecting and sharing scientific information.

This article will discuss the role of a medical science liaison vs medical affairs, some medical science liaison challenges, and medical science liaison guidelines that help shape this role.

What is a medical science liaison?

A medical science liaison is a communicator and relationship builder within the life science setting. As scientific professionals from the pharmaceutical, medical device, and biotech companies, the essential medical science liaison role is to establish communications and relay information about a company’s products to a range of people in the life science industry. These specialists work with physicians and key opinion leaders (KOLs) – as well as various other stakeholders – to ultimately bring their company’s drugs or therapies to market and to patients who need them.

While MSL professionals may work within medical affairs teams, their responsibilities differ from other medical affairs roles. A medical science liaison typically spends time in the field, communicating with experts one-on-one. Common deliverables for other medical affairs personnel might include evidence generation, articulation of a medical product or technology’s clinical and economic value, decision-making support for clinicians, healthcare providers, and patients, and provision of strategic medical direction to the organization.

Why are MSLs important in pharma?

MSLs provide a unique combination of scientific and business acumen essential to fulfilling a drug’s or medical device’s lifecycle. They simplify complex scientific and medical information to internal stakeholders within their companies as well as external stakeholders. MSLs attend medical congresses, participate in panel discussions, speak in front of large conference audiences, and talk one-on-one with decision-makers.

Since the 1960s, MSLs have been a valuable asset to companies in the pharmaceutical industry as highly trained staff in the field. Through the years, the MSL job has evolved, and the vast majority of MSLs have doctorates or nursing degrees, including PhDs, PharmDs, MDs, and RNs. MSLs are key players on life science teams during the complex work of developing treatments and therapies.

MSLs are also important with regard to compliance and proper reporting. Historically, a lack of global MSL guidelines meant that grey areas around MSL activities could lead to compliance issues. However, important considerations for MSL activities include:

  1. Never be seen to promote products for off-label use
  2. Confirm that healthcare providers report adverse events in line with local guidelines
  3. Respond to medical information requests according to organizational policy
  4. Avoid making commitments to investigators regarding funding
  5. Respond appropriately to patient- or clinical trial protocol-specific questions
  6. Avoid answering off-label questions when participating in promotional activities or events

What are some MSL challenges?

Typical medical science liaison challenges include time management, frequent travel, and staying up to date with the latest clinical research. They also need to adhere to reporting and compliance guidelines. Primarily, though, MSLs are communicators – so communication challenges can be a top concern.

Because the MSL role requires interaction with people from different life and health science areas of expertise around the world, complex communication obstacles are bound to come up. Even pre-pandemic, the amount of travel the MSL position required for in-person interaction at conferences, group and one-on-one meetings, panel discussions, and the like, was expensive and unsustainable. So, web meetings became the norm, which certainly reduced driving and flight times for the global MSL profession. For plenty of weary travelers, virtual meetings were welcome – but far from perfect.

Then, of course, came COVID-19, across-the-board travel restrictions, and the attendant boom in virtual engagement. But several communication issues persist, including wildly varying schedules and time zones, language barriers, dodgy connections, and all the other ills that one-off video calls invite. And we all know about the fatigue of endless virtual meetings. When it comes to the research and development of life-changing and possibly life-saving advancements, the costs of this are too high.

How does virtual engagement support medical science liaisons?

Happily, with rapidly developing technology, the world is opening up to better ways of sharing information. New virtual technology and artificial intelligence (AI) can help MSL teams get past communication obstacles. Within3’s insights management platform includes asynchronous discussion capabilities to transform traditional virtual meetings into specially tailored and moderated virtual work sessions that can go on for as long as your team needs.

Rather than ad hoc scheduled meetings with spotty attendance, disappointing participation, and lack of results, Within3’s platform allows an MSL team, and other members, to attend at the best time for them, from whatever device they like, and in their preferred language with the platform’s translation capability. Their insights can be reviewed, ingested, and shared using AI-powered natural language processing to surface key insights more quickly.

To learn how to effectively enable MSLs to engage with the medical community and key audiences on a secure, compliant virtual platform, read our blog post.

 

Sources
Medical Science Liaison Society. What is a medical science liaison? https://www.themsls.org/what-is-an-msl/
HBR. How to Combat Zoom Fatigue. https://hbr.org/2020/04/how-to-combat-zoom-fatigue

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