What exactly is a medical science liaison?
A medical science liaison (MSL) is a member of the medical affairs team within a pharmaceutical company.
Medical science liaison job descriptions may vary slightly in the wording they use but essentially, they are all requesting that candidates who apply have an understanding of the MSL role, can maintain a high level of therapeutic area knowledge and develop collaborative relationships with KOLs.
In this article, I am going to break down the roles and responsibilities of an MSL as taken from real life medical science liaison job descriptions from the US, UK, Canada and Australia.
I’m then going to describe how a medical science liaison candidate can use the wording of the MSL job description to demonstrate how they can show that they possess the required skills for the job (and therefore increase their chances of getting the job).
Therapy Area Knowledge – Medical Science Liaison Job Description
In GSK Australia, the job descriptions detail that the successful medical science liaison candidate will be responsible for;
Maintaining a detailed understanding of the therapy area and a deep appreciation of the science and evidence for GSK medicines and other non-GSK treatment options in the therapy area.
Therapy Area Knowledge - Demonstrate required skills
In order to show the hiring manager that you have the required skills to maintain a detailed understanding of the therapy area, in a medical science liaison interview you would say;
“I would set up google scholar alerts to ensure I maintain an understanding of the latest evidence for [insert therapy area] and of GSK’s products. I would read the approved product information of GSK’s products and the competitors’ products, as well as developing a deep understanding of the scientific evidence in the registration trials. On top of that I would also become familiar with the clinical guidelines in the therapeutic area and ensure I know if these are updated”
MSL Consultant Tip: An example of a therapy area would be respiratory or oncology.
Gather Insights – Medical Science Liaison Job Description
In Eli Lilly US, the job description states that medical science liaison candidates will be responsible for;
In this role you will gather feedback and insights from SEs to better inform Lilly’s research and to be able to inform the overall strategic direction of the Oncology Business Unit.
Gather Insights – Demonstrate required skills
In order to show the hiring manager that you have the required skills to gather insights, you would say in a medical science liaison interview;
“I would perform stakeholder mapping to identify SEs who are in a position to provide valuable insights. I would develop relationships with these SEs and ask open questions to gather their insights and then feed these insights back into the company. With regards to informing Eli Lilly’s research I would ask questions such as “What are the data gaps you see for this therapy area?” . I would also understand the clinical relevance of the data gap and identify potential SEs who would be willing and able to fill this data gap via an investigator-initiated study or a clinical trial”
MSL Consultant Tip: SE = scientific expert. In some companies these are called external experts (EEs), in other companies they are called key opinion leaders (KOLs). When in an MSL interview/writing a cover letter for a MSL job, always mirror the language used in the position description.
Developing KOL relationships – Medical Science Liaison Job Description
In England, Takeda pharmaceuticals wrote a medical science liaison job description detailing that the successful candidate will be responsible for;
Proactively identify and develop long term peer-to-peer relationships with opinion leaders and other relevant stakeholders in order to understand their needs, segment them accordingly and implement targeted approach and tactics in order to present medical data in the most efficient way
Have an upcoming MSL interview you want to prepare for? Check out our interview resources here.
Developing KOL relationships – Demonstrate required skills
In order to show the hiring manager that you have the required skills to develop KOL relationships, you would say in a medical science liaison interview;
“I would identify those KOLs who are the most influential (by assessing their publication history, if they write guidelines, if they are head of departments etc.,), I would research each KOL to get an understanding of their main interests and any pain points or challenges they are currently facing. I would then set up meetings and ask them open questions in order to understand their needs and develop a medical communication plan to ensure I present the most relevant information to them in the most efficient way and add value to them while also identifying any collaboration opportunities between Takeda and the KOLs”
You can learn how to develop KOL relationships, examples of open questions to ask KOLs and how to plan for KOL meetings here.
Scientific Engagement Activities – Medical Science Liaison Job Description
In Canada, Astra Zeneca advertised for a medical science liaison job requesting that the successful candidate be able to;
Work with HCPs as scientific consultants to engage in scientific activities aligned with corporate projects such as advisory boards, speaker programs and clinical trials
Scientific Engagement Activities – Demonstrate required skills
In order to show the hiring manager that you have the required skills to execute scientific engagement activities you would say in a medical science liaison interview;
“I would develop collaborative relationships with highly influential HCPs and where appropriate influence them to become engaged in Astra Zeneca led medical affairs projects such as advisory boards or speaker programs. If a KOL was to be involved in an Astra Zeneca speaker program I would ensure they are familiar with Astra Zeneca products and I would educate them on the most commonly asked questions and the scientific evidence required to answer them. With regards to clinical trials, prior to engaging a KOL I would ensure their suitability by assessing their history and expertise with running and leading clinical trial programs”
I highly recommend when you are preparing for a medical science liaison interview that you study the position description thoroughly and ensure you are able to provide evidence that you can deliver on each point requested. This takes some time, but it is 100% worth it.
Hiring managers want to hire people who require very little training and will be a valuable resource to the team from day one. Being able to clearly demonstrate how you can do this will massively increase your chance of success in an MSL interview.
If you want to increase your chances at a medical science liaison interview check out our interview resources.