Many medical science liaison job descriptions mention the phrase “cross-functional collaboration” but what does it actually mean? In this article, I explain the different departments or functions within a pharma company that MSLs work with and the type of projects or collaborations that MSLs are involved in with these functions.
What departments do MSLs work with within a pharma company?
MSLs work with many different teams/departments/functions within a pharma company. These include but are not limited to:
Medical affairs team
Medical information team
Regulatory affairs team
Each of these will be discussed separately and an example of how the MSL can work with these team members is described below.
MSLs are predominantly field based and therefore “externally facing” the internally facing counterpart of the MSL is the “scientific advisor” or the “medical product specialist”. This role is also sometimes known as the medical advisor, the title varies from company to company.
For the purpose of this article, I will refer to them as the scientific advisor. The scientific advisor is usually responsible for promotional review which means reviewing promotional items that the sales reps will use when talking to doctors. The role of the scientific advisor is to ensure that the promotional item (which might be a slide deck, or a physical leave behind) is accurate, balanced and in line with the local code of conduct.
An example of a project that the MSL and scientific advisor would work on together includes the development of a clinical opinion piece from a KOL which is being created for sales reps to use when talking to doctors.
This would involve the MSL utilising their KOL knowledge to identify a KOL who has a lot of clinical experience with the company’s product, then the MSL leveraging the KOL relationships to ask the KOL to be involved in sharing the clinical experience in the form of a clinical opinion piece, the scientific advisor together with the MSL would then develop questions to ask the KOL, the MSL would interview the KOL and then the scientific advisor would edit the piece (most likely in combination with the marketing department) and then the scientific advisor would do the final review and ensure it can be approved and is compliant.
Another example of how scientific advisors and MSLs work together is during the organisation of advisory boards.
The MSL will utilise their network of KOLS to identify KOLs who will help the company achieve the objective of the advisory board and then reach out to the KOLs to invite them. The scientific advisor together with the MSL develops content for the advisory board in the form of slides and data that will be presented.
Please note that there are lots of other projects that the MSL and scientific advisor will work on together and these vary from company to company and from brand to brand.
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The medical information team often sits under the pharmacovigilance team within a pharma company. The main job of the medical information team is to respond to unsolicited requests for information on the company’s products.
In certain companies, the MSL will perform the function of the medical information team and answer all unsolicited requests for information but other companies that have lots of different products, will have a dedicated medical information team.
The MSL works with the Medical Information team by developing approved medical responses to FAQ by doctors. The MSL will be particularly busy when a new product is launched as there will be lots of questions from doctors and therefore lots of approve medical response that must be developed in order to be shared with doctors and other HCPs.
The medical information team also develops a monthly report that can be shared with the MSL so that the MSL has an idea of the types of questions that are being asked and any potential knowledge gaps in the therapeutic area by doctors.
The MSL will also report any adverse events (AEs) it hears to the medical information team that so that AE reporting can be done in line with local regulations for compliance.
Pharmacovigilance, also known as drug safety, is the department responsible for collection, assessment, monitoring, and prevention of adverse effects with pharmaceutical products.
An MSL will especially work closely with the pharmacovigilance department when finalising a proposal for an investigator-initiated study. The reason for this is that when a study uses a company’s drug, it is imperative that all associated adverse events and safety events are accurately recorded by the company and liaising with the pharmacovigilance department will help the MSL write the investigator initiated research (IIR) contract in such a way to ensure the investigators recognise their responsibilities with respect to AE reporting.
Although the MSL is a non-promotional role they do work very closely with their promotional colleagues in sales.
On a 1:1 basis the MSL works very closely with specialist sales reps as often MSLs and specialist sales reps share the same KOLs and therefore communication between the reps and the MSL is imperative to ensure they manage all meetings with KOLs and understand each others roles in managing KOL relationships.
Effective communication between the MSL and the sale rep will ensure that the KOL understands the differences between each role and the benefit each role can offer the KOL. As an MSL, you want to avoid any situation where you see a KOL and then a day later the specialist sales rep sees the KOL as neither of you was aware f the others meeting with the KOL. This reflects poorly on the MSL, the rep and company.
In terms of the MSLs and reps working together, MSLs often have the opportunity to support sales reps, both specialists and GP reps in order to train them on new clinical data and provide scientific expertise on something the rep requires training on.
MSLs will often be responsible for developing and delivering training to sales reps at annual sales meetings.
Sales reps often require the MSLs assistance if they are asked an off-label question by a doctor, so if a sales rep is in a meeting and an off label question is asked the rep will contact the MSL and the MSL will visit or contact the doctor to answer the off label question.
Another way MSLs and reps can work closely together is when an MSL is new to accompany and the sale reps has an existing relationship with a KOL and the rep can introduce the MSL to the KOL. This is often much more effective than cold calling or cold emailing a KOL, as the sales reps already has an existing relationship. For this and other reasons, a collaborative relationship between the sales reps and the MSL is something that is critical to the success of the MSL and the maintenance of KOL relationships.
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The MSL will also collaborate closely with the marketing or the commercial team. The MSL will deliver insights to the medical team but also to the marketing team and these insights will be used to inform the brand strategy.
The marketing team will often identify knowledge gaps in the brands understanding of a particular therapeutic area of treatment paradigm and the MSL will be tasked with filling these knowledge gaps by talking with KOLs.
Furthermore, the MSL will be a key player in executing medical projects and these projects will be aligned to the overall brand strategy and therefore be supportive of what the marketing team is aiming to achieve.
Examples of medical projects aligned to marketing include: Development of a clinical opinion piece as mentioned earlier, organising an advisory board or management of an IIR in order to fill a data gap.
The regulatory (reg) affairs team is responsible for preparation and maintenance of product registration dossiers for submission to the relevant regulatory agencies such as the TGA, FDA or EMA.
The MSL often works closely with the reg affairs team when preparing submission to the regulatory agencies due to the MSLs close relationship with the clinical data for the product and scientific expertise. The MSL will often work with the reg affairs team and provide technical support and advice when reviewing label updates to the approved product information of one of the company’s drugs or vaccines.
As you can see the MSL interacts with many different departments within the pharmaceutical company. This article provided an overview of how an MSL can collaborate with different members of the medical affairs team, medical information team, pharmacovigilance team, sales team, marketing team and regulatory affairs team.