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The role of the medical affairs professional in the biopharma hierarchy has grown considerably in recent years, but challenges remain in its accent to true strategic partner with the C-suite.
Medical affairs professionals, including the field-based medical science liaisons (MSLs), traditionally report into the chief medical officer and are tasked with disseminating a company’s scientific and medical information about its drugs to the larger community. Over the past decade, the role has gained more attention to elevate and leverage the medical expertise of the professionals and become more strategic partners to the C-suite. However, some challenges remain to help these professionals get to the next level.
According to Katie Anders, head of Medical Affairs Strategic Solutions at Medscape, “Today, medical affairs must liaise with their R&D colleagues and fully grasp the science that supports their work. They need access to real-world data. They need the strategic thinking abilities and insights of their marketing counterparts, and the customer-facing skills of those in sales. And they must understand and operate under all of the rules and regulations governing industry interactions.”
Anders says, in the face of the changing industry dynamics, companies increasingly are asking themselves, “who do we hire for this role?” She notes some companies consider targeting a sales rep and teaching them science and data management, while others look for a person with science and technology skills and provide them with customer-facing communication skills. “There doesn’t seem to be one answer,” Anders says.
Simon Mason is chief commercial officer for Medmeme, which houses the most comprehensive, continuously updated, and integrated online repository of disseminated medical science information. He says the medical affairs department is gaining traction-and increased budgets, mentioning one company with a budget in the
billions. And, like Anders, Mason says companies aren’t sure where to go with this role. “The C-suite doesn’t feel that it currently has the right fit or the right skills to take this to the next level. In fact, I know of one company that is replacing half of its [medical affairs] staff.”
This is not to scare off current medical affairs professionals, but in the good old days, when therapies tended to be simpler chemicals, medical affairs was seen as a support function. Now, with therapeutics growing in complexity (e.g., biologics) and medicine becoming more personalized, a successful medical affairs department is one that will win by strategically communicating the nuances of sophisticated science with the larger medical community.
Take training. Medscape now offers-based on numerous requests-Medical Affairs Strategic Solutions (MASS). MASS takes its repository of practice performance and clinician behavior data, and offers analysis and insights, personalized training, and solutions that support these professionals in dealing with their HCP clients.
“For example, you can test your messages with Medscape’s reach of over 3.5 million active physicians worldwide,” says Anders.
With the increased visibility of the MSL and medical affairs professional, comes increased performance measurement. This is an area that has been sorely lacking in the past, says Mason. “It was difficult to measure performance in this area. You could communicate with your external community via publication articles or scientific meetings, but there was no way to measure the impact,” he says. “It was hard for medical affairs to prove to commercial its effectiveness.”
Medmeme recently launched a platform of solutions called Medmeme Delta. Its measurements use the company’s propriety algorithms as an objective solution to validate decisions and measure results. For medical affairs, a department largely involved with writing up and disseminating medical science, Medmeme Delta can evaluate not only internal efforts, but those of the competition, in terms of frequency and quality, and point out the best paths for that scientific dissemination.
Mason explains, “There are tens of thousands of places where [medical affairs] data exist-ClinicalTrials.gov, PubMed-but the rest of the data is all over the place, and getting it together is difficult.” Other sources include research grants, patients, clinical trials, meetings, publications, labels, and treatment guidelines. Mason says that it used to routinely take 12-to-18 months to get a paper published in a peer-review journal, however, the mere mention of respectable research can be found in meeting abstracts and online journals a lot faster. “Meetings have exploded,” says Mason. “You are reaching KOL (key opinion leader) investigators and researchers much more quickly.”
As the role continues to change, Mason notes that many in the C-suite believe that medical should be driving strategy. “It’s not there yet, and I thought it would be here sooner,” he says. But with the tools, services, and changing skill sets offered to elevate the medical affairs role, it shows promise to reach its potential.