Words by Martin Barrow.
The age of big data is redefining the role of medical affairs in the pharmaceutical industry. Formerly regarded as technical product advisers, MA is assuming a critical function at the interface of pharma, doctors, and patients.
Pharma companies are developing previously unimaginable amounts of data and scientific insights with the potential to transform the delivery of care. But they are not always successful in communicating scientific information effectively with the growing array of stakeholders that influence purchasing decisions. That shortfall is one reason many new drug launches underperform: 50% of all launches now fail to meet company expectations, according to research by Bain & Co.
To address this challenge, pharma companies are repurposing MA by leveraging their deep product knowledge and understanding of disease to generate and present high-quality scientific knowledge to the market and educate stakeholders about next-generation products.
“Medical Affairs could become a strategic ace”
An experienced MA team links scientific and clinical results to patient outcomes, adding value at each stage of a drug’s development. Teams gather feedback on market potential and patient needs at the earliest stages of the drug development process. Their insights can improve return on investment and create a strong competitive advantage by helping companies design more effective clinical programmes and launches.
The winners will be those pharma companies who transform MA teams into medical value teams with three strategic roles: communicating scientific evidence, providing market-based strategic input to drug development and portfolio management, and overseeing the effort to produce big data and real-world evidence.
Loic Plantevin, Partner, Bain & Co, says: “MA could become a strategic ace, not only to generate but also to communicate scientific evidence to all stakeholders and to educate them in how to optimise use of new products.”
For instance, when it comes to prescribing drugs, doctors value real-world evidence ahead of all other factors. But they struggle with the sheer volume of data that is being put at their disposal. So too are healthcare commissioners. At the same time, diagnostic tools are becoming more sophisticated and drugs increasingly complex. MA teams can help stakeholders — doctors, commissioners, payers — interpret the data to their advantage.
Additionally, MA teams create scientific evidence to support drug development, including real-world evidence, in-house data, and scientific analysis. Teams can help companies respond to the exponential increase in demand for independent data and also the rise in drug protocols and guidelines and greater transparency requirements. In the right environment, MA teams integrate new types of evidence and steer collaborations with data providers and analytics companies.
“By 2025, medical affairs will be the patient-access advocate, honing conversations and data”
Dr Théresé McCall, Executive Leadership Committee Member, Medical Affairs Professional Society (MAPS), says that with the acceleration of the transfer of knowledge via the internet and social media, MA will likely find themselves involved even earlier in the commercialisation process than they are now. “Knowledge moves across borders and is no longer siloed”, she says. “By 2025, MA will be the patient access advocate, honing conversations and data.”
Digitisation is challenging the very foundations on which the pharma industry is built. Today’s companies will prosper if they truly understand the patient experience. They can take a big step to achieving this through the expansion of the capabilities of their MA teams to act as an effective liaison between the medical community and the internal research organisation. At the same time, MA can help to re-establish pharma’s integrity and credibility by communicating higher quality medical information that is of the highest relevance to customers.