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MSL the Multilinguist

Updated: Dec 2, 2021

Words by Michaila Byrne

As Wittgenstein so eloquently put it: ‘words enable us to make pictures of facts.’ Even with the very best of intentions, interactions between stakeholders can leave parties confused, overwhelmed by jargon, and often begging more questions than they answer. Herein steps the Medical Science Liaison: a specialised polyglot, possessing a wealth of scientific expertise and fluent in the language of all stakeholders. With their knowledge and skillset, the MSL has become an indispensable translator within the language of medical affairs. Their expertise is unquestioned, now their role requires more definition and support. How can the pharmaceutical industry empower MSLs as they assume outward-facing positions on the industry frontlines?

Often a PhD-carrying academic, the MSL’s primary function is to be an educator. They converse with hospitals, key opinion leaders, and specific therapeutic fields alike, to collect insight to later articulate back to the company developing a respective drug, treatment, or medical device. Speaking at eyeforpharma Barcelona virtual 2020, Emma Booth, Director and Head of Medical Strategy and Operations, Amgen, elaborates on the MSL’s role as a communicator and why they need to be empowered: “You obviously want to preserve the reason why your MSLs are respected. You want to preserve their scientific credibility, their ability to have peer-to-peer conversations, so you need to preserve their therapeutic area knowledge and understanding of the disease landscape.”

Although insights that could be invaluable for decision-making exist directly under the noses of pharma organisations, they are often not acknowledged or realised to their fullest potential.

Victoria Ho, Director, MSL Excellence EU/RoW, Jazz Pharmaceuticals, stresses the importance of nurturing an integrated insights system that informs medical decision-making, identifying MSLs as pivotal in this respect. “The MSL role is consistently underrated in terms of its ability to bring in deeper, meaningful insight about clinical trends and scientific information. The variety of that insight, along with other sources, is really powerful within an organisation if they are brought together in the right way.”

This scientific advancement is driving value on a global scale, and helping MA to become the most strategically important function in the industry. Charlotte Kremer, Executive VP, Head of Medical Affairs, Astellas, comments: “Scientific advancement has led the pharma model to change from a primary care model to a more specialised, personalised medicine model that requires complex science, scientists, and trained people to do external scientific exchange on the data and diseases.”

As we step forward into an increasingly digital and virtual world, awash with noise and terminology to boot, sustaining external relationships will become imperative. As Booth outlines: “Reinforcing external relationships and ensuring that there are face-to-face opportunities for engagement, where it is possible, is going to be critical in meeting needs going forward.”

If MSLs are adequately supported and equipped with tools and time, they can develop the vocabulary necessary to facilitate conversations between stakeholders and deliver actionable insights. As the scientific expert for drugs and treatments, the MSL educates and converses with clinicians, researchers, and pharma. By understanding the value of MSLs, not as a sales function, but as a force for changing strategy, pharma can refocus this connection, ensuring that all stakeholders are speaking the same language.

The MSL role is consistently underrated in terms of its ability to bring in deeper, meaningful insight

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