Dr. Samuel Dyer has spent his entire 13-year career working in the Medical Science Liaison (MSL) profession. In that time he has worked as an MSL, MSL Director, managed very small and large MSL teams in multiple countries as well as spent time as a consultant to pharmaceutical, medical device and management consulting companies on MSL projects all over the world. Last year, he founded the Medical Science Liaison Society (MSL Society) to provide a community for MSL professionals in the growing and evolving profession. He took the time to chat with us about how the role of the MSL is evolving and where the MSL Society fits into all of this.
As someone with a lot of experience as an MSL, how have you seen the role evolve over the last few years?
Over the last several years, there has been a paradigm shift in the relationship that Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) have with pharmaceutical companies. Increasingly, companies are using their MSL teams to be the primary contact with KOLs and other healthcare providers. A number of factors have driven this, including direct feedback from KOLs regarding the perceived value they receive from MSL teams. This preference is reportedly due to the level and depth of clinical exchange that physicians have with MSLs, who are primarily focused on scientific exchange with KOLs, versus sales and marketing teams whose primary roles are to promote their respective products.
Historically, pharma companies have felt their sales and marketing teams provided the most value to KOLs and employed them as the primary contact for the company. However, KOLs have increasingly reported over the years that they actually prefer to engage with MSLs.
Recent studies have revealed that pharma companies have expanded their MSL operations in Asia and Europe. In fact, according to Cutting Edge Information, 67% of life sciences companies now have MSL teams in Europe and 21% have them in Asia. What has led to this growth of MSLs globally?
Yes, there has been an explosion of growth of the MSL role not only in Asia but globally over the last several years. In fact, according to Cutting Edge Information, from 2005-2010 there was a 76% growth in the MSL role at the top 10 pharma companies in the United States. Research from other companies has further supported this growth.
Although there are a number of factors that are contributing to this growth, according to research from Thought Leader Select and other companies, the fundamental reason is that KOLs place a much higher value on the information that MSLs bring to their clinical practice when compared to sales and marketing teams.
Do you expect the growth of the MSL role globally to continue?
Yes, I expect the MSL role to continue to grow. A number of findings have reported on the continued growth of the MSL role, including a recent global survey conducted by the MSL Society. In the survey, which included both MSLs and executive management, the MSL society asked over 650 participants from 43 countries if they felt their MSL teams would expand over the next one to two years, and, if so, by how much. A significant percentage of participants reported that they expected their respective MSL teams to grow by up to 20% in just the next two years. There were other interesting findings as well from this survey, and the MSL Society plans to present further detailed findings at its upcoming annual meeting in the spring of 2013.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services have finally released their final rules for the Sunshine Act. What effect do you think the Sunshine Act will have on MSLs?
There are numerous global regulatory changes that will be implemented over the next several years including the Sunshine Act in the U.S. and the U.K. Bribery Act, which will result in increased scrutiny between physicians and the industry. Clearly these will have an effect on how pharmaceutical companies engage with KOLs and the Sunshine Act and other regulatory changes will only further highlight the paradigm shift in the relationship that KOLs have with companies. These changes will also reinforce the important contributions that MSLs make to the success of companies.
Last year you launched the Medical Science Liaison Society. Can you tell us a little about the society and its benefits?
About three years ago, a group of us were at an international meeting and we started discussing the growth of the global MSL role and the need for a global professional MSL Society to both promote and help advance the MSL profession. We all agreed that the evolution of the MSL role, since it started in the U.S. at Upjohn in 1967, demanded the need for an organization to finally be dedicated to the role. Although the MSL role is growing, the MSL community is still small when compared to other professions within the pharmaceutical industry.
The Medical Science Liaison Society is the first ever global non-profit organization dedicated to the MSL profession. The MSL Society is filling a vital need for the expanding role of Medical Science Liaisons around the world, as they collaborate with KOLs, physicians, and other healthcare professionals to advance medical science together and improve the quality of life for patients everywhere.
The MSL Society also just announced its first conference and gala, taking place April 1-3 in Philadelphia. The goal for the first meeting is to bring together global MSL professionals for education and networking in an effort to support the profession. Attendees will include Medical Affairs and MSL Leadership, as well as other professionals focusing on key topics such as MSL metrics, MSL management, MSL training, KOL access, KOL management, Health Economics Outcomes Research (HEOR), and the role of MSLs in clinical trials.