Medical Science Liaisons (MSL’s) provide a valuable service but…

  • The Medical Science Liaison (MSL) is a specific role within the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, medical device, CRO and other healthcare industries.
  • MSLs have advanced scientific training and academic credentials generally consisting of a doctorate degree (Ph.D., PharmD., M.D.) in the life sciences.
  • MSL’s can talk off-label with KOL’s but only if the physician initiates the discussion.
  • Pharma usually applies quantitative metrics to MSL’s which may deter their value.
  • They are usually overburdened with meetings and conference calls.

As I listen to physicians talk about MSL’s they seem to find them of value, but as pharma companies hire more they are more of a nuisance to some.  Why? Because pharma companies rate them by the number of interactions rather than the quality of interactions with each doctor.  

“I had one MSL come by my office every month and just repeat the data I read from ASCO  but when I asked for information about that data all she could say was “that it’s coming” said an Oncologist talking about a Keytruda contract MSL.  “I don’t want the same data that I can get online or at a conference” she said.

The life of an MSL

MSL’s, although they work at home, often spend 80-90% of their time on the road and when they are home they often are busy with conference calls and meetings .  One MSL showed me his schedule and over a three week period he was only home 4 days, which he said “took its toll on my family life”.

Then there is the mandatory team meetings and conference call which can go hours.  “I usually multitask during the calls, ” he told me “I just have too much to do and then I get a dashboard that says my expense reports are late and that I am falling behind in KOL interactions” said another in a recent interview.  “I could spend three hours talking about our data and patients, but my company sees it the same as talking to a physician for 10 minutes.

MSL’s are valuable to physicians, but..

1ne: It takes a while to form a relationship with a KOL but often  MSL’s rotate to a new job or territory and then they have to start from scratch to develop a working relationship.

2wo:  Pharma insists on assigning quantitative measurements to MSL’s often not measuring the “quality” of each interaction.

3hree: Physicians see them as a valuable resource, but there is a fine line between being a valuable resource and a pain in the neck.

4our: The constant traveling and meetings can take its toll on MSL’s often leading to burnout.  In addition MSL’s often have to attend national trade conferences.

The bottom line..

MSL’s can be a valuable resource, but over zealous pharma companies need to look at their real value which is to have in-depth, meaningful, relationships with KOL’s rather than trying to “see as many as possible”.

Pharma also should take into account how much time MSL’s spend on the road, including commuting time to and from appointments.  They can often spend 4 hours traveling for every hour with a KOL.

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