How to Effectively Organise an Advisory Board (virtual or face to face) as a Medical Science Liaison
Many job descriptions for MSLs describe the need for applicants to be able to organise advisory boards. In this article I’ll be describing what an advisory board is and the three steps an MSL can take to ensure they run smoothly. This article also provides guidance on virtual advisory boards.
What is an Advisory Board?
An Advisory Board refers to a group of healthcare professionals or academics (any type of KOL) with specific expertise being contracted as consultants by a company to meet and provide advice on a Company’s product, group of products or general disease management.
Step 1: Define the Objective
A successful advisory board begins with a clearly defined objective – what does the company actually want to achieve from the advisory board? This will dictate the people that are invited to the advisory board and the agenda.
Examples of advisory board objectives include:
- Gain feedback on new clinical data and how this data might affect treatment paradigms in a particular therapy area
- To understand data gaps in a particular therapeutic area
- To understand how a new product should be positioned in the market place prior to developing a launch strategy
Step 2: Invite KOLs
Once you’ve clearly defined your objective, the next step is to identify KOLs who have the influence and expertise to help you achieve your objective.
KOLs are very busy people so you may not be able to get one day to suit everyone. Prioritise your list of KOLs, and lock in the date with the most important KOLs first, before reaching out to the rest of the KOLs on your list. If a KOL refuses the invite, ask them for a recommendation for another KOL with similar expertise who may be interested in attending.
Ensure the KOLs you invite are “fit for purpose”.
If for example, you want to receive clinical feedback on a product, you would invite people you know have clinical experience as opposed to inviting people who have never used the product or inviting people (like scientists/academics) who are not clinicians.
Step 3: Develop Agenda & Questions
Advisory boards can last from anywhere between 2 and 8 hours depending on the agenda.
The general format of an advisory board is:
Data is presented. This can be done by a member of the pharmaceutical company or a KOL.
This is then followed by a series of questions.
The group of KOLs at the advisory board then discuss the data and the questions asked.
There is then usually a short break.
This cycle is repeated until all topics are covered.
When preparing questions for the advisory board, ask open questions (questions which start with Who, When, What, Which) to stimulate conversation and discussion.
Examples of questions to ask include:
- What are the current challenges associated with treatment of this disease?
- What are your thoughts on this data?
- What studies could be done to fill any data gaps?
- Where does this drug fit in the treatment paradigm?
It's also a good idea to Invite some of your KOL attendees to present some data (if applicable) to the advisory board – this adds value to the other advisory board members and is a great way to engage the other KOL members.
Advisory Board Chair
The advisory board will be chaired or facilitated by either a member of the pharma company or a KOL. It is the responsibility of the chair to keep the meeting on track and on time. If using an external chair, ensure to brief them thoroughly prior to the meeting. Send them any slides that will be presented and explain the objective of the advisory board and what they can do to facilitate the company meeting that objective.
Face to Face Advisory Board Tips
Choose a convenient location – if KOLs have to fly to attend, often an airport lounge or a hotel at the airport are the most convenient locations to use
Conferences can be a great place to organise advisory boards as KOLs are already attending and so it can be quite easy to get everyone in the same room.
Choose a room with natural light – this helps keep the energy up in the room
Virtual Advisory Board Tips
Use Zoom (as everyone is now very familiar with how to use it).
Mute attendees and only unmute when they are speaking.
Send a clear agenda prior to the advisory board and some guidance for how the advisory board will run.
In order to ensure you get feedback from everyone at the advisory board, the chair of the meeting (be it a KOL or someone from the pharma company) can ask for feedback from each individual person at the advisory board during the discussion time. This has the advantage of ensuring that everyone speaks and contributes. Often in face to face advisory boards, there may be 1-2 KOLs who are quite outspoken and sometimes quieter KOLs who may have really useful insights don’t contribute as much.
Ensure you have regular breaks for a virtual advisory board – I recommend 10 minutes every hour and if people want to turn off their video at certain stages that’s fine as that really can help with zoom fatigue.
For any pre-reading send both an electronic and hard copy to provide the option to do some pre-reading off screen.
Request permission to record the attendees in order to ensure effective minute taking.
When the minutes are typed up, send to all attendees to review before finalising the minutes.
Consultancy agreements will need to be in place for all KOLs attending the advisory board.
Records of the agenda, services provided, and consultancy agreements should be maintained by the company, including meeting minutes. These should be kept and filed.
Compliance does vary from country to country and company to company so please check your local regulations for guidance.
If you have any questions about how to plan an advisory board or have an upcoming advisory board that you would like help with – drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org as I offer 1:1 tailored coaching on this and other MSL activities.