Medical Science Liaisons (MSLs) are healthcare consulting professionals who are employed by pharmaceutical, biotechnology, medical device, and managed care companies. Their role is to build relationships with key opinion leaders (KOLs), allowing a trusted glimpse into the market and competition. The term MSL has been around since the late 1960s, but there's been a recent, significant shift in what the role now involves.
Gaurav Kapoor, co-founder of healthcare solutions company Indegene, said in an interview that pharma companies have seen an increase in the number of MSLs hired over recent years. But there's also been speculation that the role of the MSL has changed and become more commercial. Is this change in responsibility the reason why we've seen an increase in MSL hires?
According to Kapoor, pharma companies are now starting to build their pre-launch specialty drug forces with MSLs, meaning a mass hire of sales reps never occurs. "They're not displacing reps," he noted. "They're just not hiring as many sales reps and hiring MSLs more."
The use of MSLs within the pharma marketing industry is also on the increase. According to Beth Snyder Bulik, of FiercePharma
, MSLs - who tend to be doctors and pharmacologists with advanced degrees - are increasingly being hired on the marketing side of the pharma industry.
"Although not exactly replacing sales representatives," she stated, "MLSs are being hired to staff launch teams for biologics or complex speciality drugs instead of what would have traditionally been a sales rep's job on a small-molecule drug".
The rise in MSLs was also documented in a recent survey by Indegene, a healthcare solutions company. Their Digital Savvy HCP 2017 study found that MSLs have taken on a more complex selling role, while the focus of sales reps has transferred more to driving a share of voice.
Building on this, Helen Kane, Managing Director of consultancy Pivot MSL, sees four core competencies for today's MSLs. "Five years ago, only the first two - scientific knowledge and communication skills - were considered strictly necessary for an MSL, but now they also need scientific expertise and business acumen," she said. "Now, with the contribution of the MSL manager to insight and strategic planning, there has been a shift in the view of the MSL as a partner. Emotional intelligence should be pretty high on the list too."
Their traditional role was reactive," notes Dr. Thérèse McCall, a member of the Medical Affairs Professional Society (MAPS) executive leadership committee. "Historically, MSLs were not valued as partners by clinical development and may have been considered not to have the relevant expertise. Increasingly though, there is a greater awareness on the value and perspective MSLs bring. As a result, there is a stronger voice for the patient, the disease state, and the potential place of the asset in therapy. This results in better trials and launches with more targeted stakeholder data."
So why has there been a change in the role of the Medical Science Liaison? Because KOLs are demanding it. According to Dr Samuel Dyer, CEO of the Medical Science Liaison Society, as today's thought leaders engage in clinical conversations with life sciences companies they're looking for MSLs to come bearing detailed, scientific information.
There's also now the theory that medical affairs serves as a bridge between clinical, scientific and commercial teams, with MSL Excellence helping to drive greater patient-centricity. This would help to explain why the role of MSLs has taken on more responsibilities, as they strive to cover more areas within the process.
Alongside this, the global increase in the use of cloud technology has also contributed to the shifting role of MSLs. The cloud puts everything out there, where it is available in real time across connected platforms.
According to an article in PMLive
, integrated cloud-based suites offer many advantages to medical teams, including the ability to bring together the numerous interactions and conversations KOLs have with various customer-facing teams. Doing so provides a holistic view of the KOL so the MSL knows how to expertly tailor all future interactions and develop trusted, collaborative relationships.
Due to this change in role, where MSLs are expected to take more over-arching responsibilities, the term MSL Excellence has come into play. This is usually the collection of projects or initiatives that are put into place to help improve the impact an MSL team has and is something which MSLs should consider when looking to advance their career development.