Words by Louise Rogers
As the responsibilities of medical affairs continue to mushroom, so too do the grey clouds of misunderstanding, casting a shadow on the duties carried out by the department. There is no dispute over the value MA brings, which is heavily cemented in pharma’s foundations, but with a recent swing towards strategy, from a decade ago where supportive held a majority of the seats, other parties seem unsure as to the department’s day-to-day role. To shift from a weather forecast of cloudy with a chance of misconception, GOLD spoke to three MA professionals to shed light on the affair.
It is an exciting time to be part of MA!
Akin to any role, in any industry, a day will differ depending on hierarchy and the company itself; however, the core of the business stays within scope. “This [the core] may include pharmacovigilance, medical information, medical communications, reviewing approvals of promotional and non-promotional materials, internal training, and key opinion leader management”, says Michal Konstacky, Global Medical Affairs Specialist. He details the role into three moieties: the core; the second layer, including responsibilities such as team management, launch plan contributions, and patient advocacy management; and the outer layer, which includes social media engagement, risk mitigation programmes, and gathering competitive intelligence. “It’s hard to describe a typical day because not one is the same. Typically, I travel 1–2 days a week; a day is spent in meetings with medical, marketing, and leadership teams; at least three times a week we discuss upcoming congress’ and symposia; afternoons may be spent meeting clinical development and reviewing updates to clinical studies.” He emphasises that some roles are so specialised, there are separate dedicated departments.
Representing this MA demographic is Teodora Festini, Global Medical Franchise Head of Immunology, Sandoz, who works to design, implement, and execute the MA strategy for immunology products, ensuring alignment with the company’s overall strategy. “My morning starts with a short discussion with my team; a clear overview of their tasks allows me to coordinate their work and advance them as individuals and us as a team – [this is] crucial for us to deliver and grow successfully as a company.” Leadership meetings with medical and other departments govern parts of her day; it is therefore surprising how MA promotion, from a side-line substitute to centre field in the starting line-up, has not been recognised by all. “I was shocked by the outcomes of a survey, asking other functions what they thought the role of MA was”, comments Festini. “The results revealed a huge ignorance, with MA still only seen as supportive. But it also opened my eyes to how much more we need to show our value; we can do this through more proactive work, and not being tied to mandatory requirements, which consume our time.”
Current department set up and limited resources inhibit proactive work, something which is desired among employees. Reactive work constitutes the core duties, while proactive work represents that which becomes visible through long-term strategy development, and where medical knowledge is priceless: “Understanding the patient journey and addressing it correctly enables commercial teams to hit the correct target. Medical teams can recognise existing gaps in treatment options, HCP challenges, and patient needs”, says Festini.
I was shocked by the outcomes of a survey, asking other functions what they thought the role of MA was
As Medical Director for Merck KGaA, UK & Ireland, Belinda Byrne holds a managerial and representative role: “In my role I provide strategic direction and leadership, while supporting the department in helping the business meet its strategic priorities.” Byrne starts her day with a cup of coffee and reviews her emails and calendar, putting a plan in place to ensure she achieves her daily goals. Meetings dominate Byrne’s day too, varying from leadership team meetings, clinical trial discussions, budget reviews, 1:1 meetings with team members, and franchise-specific business reviews. “At Merck there is a focus on the three Ms: medical, marketing, and market access. From HCP, we gather insights to help provide strategic direction and keep up to date on treatment guidelines. We work with marketing to help craft scientific messages, which resonate with customers while being compliant. And we work closely with market access to inform on economic models, providing information on patient pathways, demographics, and epidemiology.” She hones in on the fact that no two days are the same, “[which is] by far the best thing about my role. It is so inspiring to be a part of the fast pace scientific discovery and development, enabling tolerable treatment options. It is an exciting time to be a part of MA!”
“That is the easiest question to answer”, remarks Festini when asked what the best part of her role is. “It’s seeing the impact we have on patients; being able to co-create with key experts in the field and really change the standard of care and outcomes for patients. This comes as a result of many pieces assembled together, which only a MA function can complete. Organising targeted educational and awareness projects, which can result in measurable changes in patient outcomes, makes me proud of the work I do.”
As the clouds of misunderstanding surrounding the role of MA begin to disperse, the varying opportunities and challenges the department face on a daily basis become clearer. The future for individuals in the MA department is forecast to be clear and bright; as the role continues to take on a weight of responsibility, MA will be a part of creating a unique strategy, which will yield a competitive advantage for their company and better outcomes for both physician and patient.