Written by Glen Martin, Senior Vice President, Kineticos

First and foremost to my friends and colleagues with Doctorate degrees: these questions are by no means meant to diminish the value of a Doctorate degree. Actually, the opposite could not be truer. Doctorate degrees in the life sciences industry have served an invaluable role, and will continue to be critical for the future development of our industry. The purpose of these questions is strictly focused on the MSL role, and whether or not a Doctorate degree should be “required”.

What is the role and responsibility of an MSL? Well, in general, the MSL is the field-based scientific liaison responsible for fostering and developing relationships with key opinion leaders. However, this is a very broad description, and requires further explanation. MSLs, or Medical Science Liaisons, are the field-based scientific conduit between a pharmaceutical company and key thought leaders/investigators. Building relationships with these individuals can take many forms, but the focus is on scientific information exchange. These exchanges can be focused in the areas of research, market access, patient advocacy, and competitive intelligence, to name a few. With all of these critical focus areas, it is amazing that most companies still cannot agree on the value of these roles, and what metrics should be in place to measure that value.

I have personally held countless discussions with Heads of Medical Affairs, Directors of MSL teams, and MSLs themselves, and the theme and story is still same…we need to demonstrate our value better. This would lead us to the obvious question – what is wrong? I believe there are two root causes to the continued MSL value debate. The first issue is poor communication and collaboration between company’s Medical Affairs and Commercial departments. It is rare that both parties are in complete agreement as to the value an MSL serves an organization. Medical Affairs has its opinion, as does Commercial, and the tension usually comes to light after teams have been hired and deployed. This issue can be addressed through improved communication between both parties, and of course, agreement on the specific needs and responsibilities for the MSL role.

The second issue is rooted in the question of the make-up, or skill set, required for the MSL to demonstrate value and success within these defined responsibilities. The key focus for an MSL is to build relationships, both internal and external. Does one require a Doctorate to build relationships with doctors? Does one need a Doctorate to be an expert at scientific exchange? I think in some cases, yes, but not always. If you have strong scientific aptitude, excellent communication skills, and prior experience as an MSL, why would you not make a great ongoing MSL? Some of the best MSLs that have worked for me, or that I have collaborated with, are not “D”s. On the other hand, I have worked with phenomenal Doctorate degree MSL’s. I have witnessed or managed great MSL talent as MDs, PharmDs, PhDs, RNs, NPs, RPhs and even some with only a Bachelor’s in Science.

Having led multiple MSL and Sales organizations, I do not think the answer is all “D” or nothing. Like any great team, having an MSL team with a broad mix of capabilities and attributes will help with achieving their goals and satisfying corporate partners. One thing is for sure: we struggle to define, and agree upon, success for these roles, and change is most likely needed. If this opinion elicits healthy debate, then debate was needed.

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Glen Martin, Senior Vice President of Kineticos’ Biopharmaceutical Practice, brings over 20 years of experience in the biopharmaceutical industry to the team.  His team is focused on helping commercial stage companies realize their commercial potential at the corporate, portfolio and product levels. Glen’s therapeutic expertise lies within Oncology, Hematology and Urology while his functional expertise includes Medical Affairs, Commercial Launch and KOL Management.

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