PharmExec Blog

The Increasing Value of Medical Science Liaisons

Can’t get your sales rep into that academic medical center? Try sending a medical science liaison (MSL). A new study from Industry Standard Research (ISR) found that MSLs enjoy better access and higher levels of trust among oncologists. Docs also want different kinds of information from MSLs, according to the study findings.

Paul Schafer, president at ISR

Andrew Schafer, president, ISR

Despite fewer restrictions placed on MSLS, in terms of access to oncologists, 77% of the US-based oncologists and hematologist/oncologists surveyed said they’d seen a sales rep in the last month, while only 37% said they’d seen an MSL, said Andrew Schafer, president at ISR. This suggests a “visit gap” and a missed opportunity, said Schafer. “Fifty-three percent of academic medical centers don’t have policies restricting MSL access,” said Schafer. “Only twenty-five percent don’t have sales rep restrictions.”

Despite thousands of job cuts over the last few years, sales reps are still more plentiful among big pharma than MSLs, which may account for part of the visit gap identified by Schafer. However, there are signs that MSLs are performing key functions that, traditionally, have been part of rep detail. Oncologists reported that new efficacy data read-outs from clinical trials, and competing product information, ranked highest in terms of the most valuable information MSLs provide to docs, the study found.

The relationship between an oncologist and an MSL “more closely resembles a peer-to-peer” kind of exchange; less promotional and more on the level, said Schafer, noting that oncologists like for MSLs to connect them with KOLs and other leaders in their field. Oncologists don’t, however, like to be presented with preexisting data or information regarding other KOL opinions or behaviors, said Schafer.

It varies, but most oncologists do still prefer in-person engagement as opposed to non-personal engagement or e-details. From sales reps, oncologists say they want, first and foremost, patient education materials, according to the study.

Asked how much influence private and government payers had on prescribing decisions three years ago, versus how much influence they’re likely to have three years from now, oncologists said they expect payers to exert twice as much influence on their decisions in three years time, said Schafer.

Finally, which pharmaceutical company has the best MSLs? Based on ISR’s sample size of 102 respondents spread across academic medical centers (35%), community settings (31%), private and family practices (14%), mulch-specialty clinics (11%), hospitals (7%) and military/VA hospitals (2%), Genentech was number one, Schafer said.

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  1. Posted August 6, 2012 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    While the facts of this post are correct, the framing is misleading and can place companies at risk. MSLs are not scientific salespeople. As the post indicates, MSLs do traditionally have “…less restrictions…” than sales people and more credibility with oncologists precisely because they are not salespeople. They are non-promotional educators. The minute MSLs begin to have promotional responsibilities they must face the same limitations of any promotional resources – sticking to the label only.

    The phrase in the post describing MSLs as “…less promotional…” is very problematic. From a regulatory perspective, either a person is in a promotional job or a non-promotional job. You can’t be a little bit pregnant nor a little bit promotional Calling someone an MSL but giving them promotional responsibilities is not a shield against regulatory restrictions. If you are interested in a more thorough discussion of this take a look at this link.

  2. Hunter Heath
    Posted August 7, 2012 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    Gary Tyson is absolutely correct. The US government has zero tolerance for illegal off-label promotion, and such violations may occur through the activities of ANY company employee, from the CEO down. Any suggestion that company physicians, scientists, or MSLs are in any way exempt from limitations on off-label promotion is false and dangerous. The government can regard and has regarded many behaviors as “off-label promotion” that used to be commonplace in pharmaceutical promotion. In order to gain and retain the trust of and access to physicians– especially in academia– MSL behavior must be limited as Mr. Tyson outlined. There must be no link between MSLs and sales activities.

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