Words by Kirstie Turner
Medical affairs has established itself as a key department in pharmaceutical companies, largely for the department’s role as the communicators of scientific knowledge. But as digital solutions are set to take over the industry, what can MA do to ensure they continue to thrive in the future?
Medical affairs is fulfilling its destiny to become an invaluable element of the pharmaceutical industry, as they champion scientific exchange and communication of knowledge. But what will become of the department in years to come? While there is no clairvoyant gazing pensively into her crystal ball, sharing visions of the future of MA, we can predict with near certainty that digital will change the status quo forever. MA must enhance its digital skillset and develop customer-centric strategies to ensure the department’s success is on the cards.
When discussing the future of MA at eyeforpharma Barcelona virtual 2020, Charlotte Kremer, EVP, Head of MA, Astellas Pharma, believes we should start by remembering what makes the department valuable and unique: “I always consider MA the stewards of knowledge, both outside in: by bringing insights into the company, and inside out: by having discussions, sharing the most up-to-date advances about our products, and putting everything into context. That is the scientific exchange that is so foundational to MA.”
The department has certainly made its mark and become invaluable to pharma, but MA cannot stand still. “We have to be more curious, inspired, and self-aware of what we are doing and perhaps a little more emotional and agile,” adds Michael Zaiac, Head of MA, Oncology Region Europe, Novartis. Now that the role is established, it must improve and evolve to become a pillar of pharma’s future.
Times are changing and digital is increasingly dominating most industries. In pharma, we are seeing external stakeholders with increased ability to access and collate data. “In the past, there was much more inside out communication of data about our products, but external stakeholders may soon have equal, or even more, data about our products, so working with them to generate data through collaborative research or big data analysis is key to the success of pharma and MA can take that on,” explains Kremer.
In order to flourish in the digital future, MA must improve its capability in order to enhance the unique offerings it brings to the table. Kremer asks: “Are we digital savvy? Most of us have a good understanding, but are we state-of-the-art? Do we have the knowledge and have we hired the right talent with these capabilities to make sure that we can make this innovation into true digitisation and e-delivery of information? Those are the capabilities that will be so important for the future, for MA to realise its success.”
Zaiac believes the future looks bright for MA: “I think we can become trusted partners to our patients, physicians, payers, politicians, and beyond.” But to reach this, the department needs to develop its skillset, specifically in the realm of digital and data: “We have to fill some gaps. There are some hard skills we have to learn: different ways of data generation, better use of existing data and advanced analytics, as well as health economics and the ability to discuss the cost benefits of our medicines more efficiently.”
Along with these hard skills that must be developed, Zaiac believes there are more nuanced areas for MA to develop: “More difficult, I believe, are the soft skills we have to learn. These are things we have to practise: questions and listening; going beyond the product data presentations in our conversations to create patient focussed discussions for patients and HCPs; adapt these same presentations for payers and politicians; and we have to finish our conversations with mutual commitment and a follow-up plan.”
‘The customer is always right’ may be a cliché, but this must play a key part in MA’s strategy for the future. “We really need to start communicating to what our customers need, and if that changes midway through the conversation, we have to be able to adapt and to really deliver value to them and not just regurgitate what we want to bring across,” adds Zaiac, adding: “We have to learn and practise how to translate our non-verbal conversations, which are very successful if we are face-to-face, into verbal communications. With that, I believe we can really transform into a successful MA department of the future.” For MA to thrive in the future, it is critical that they work with the customers’ best interest at heart and adapt as that changes; again, agility is key.
Fortune favours the brave, and MA must be bold in its steps to future-proof the department. Zaiac reminds MA to keep pondering: “Do we want to try and predict the future, or do we want to try and shape the future?” With an influx of development on both hard and soft skills, recognising digital as a key player, and a focus on customer needs, MA can become instrumental in determining the industry’s future.