Medical Science Liaisons (MSLs) within the life sciences industry are partners with external scientific and medical stakeholders. An MSL’s primary responsibility is to communicate with healthcare providers and other experts about their companies’ products and clinical data. To protect the public from unethical behavior, companies are investing in certification for their field-based medical personnel, such as MSLs.

An MSL’s mission is to collaborate and maintain trustworthy medical and scientific relationships with healthcare professionals within their specific therapeutic areas. MSLs provide value through timely peer-to-peer scientific exchange. They also provide accurate and balanced information and training about diseases, medical needs, and treatments.

The liaison’s internal role aligns with this mission, as well. MSLs serve as internal medical and scientific experts who train and inform and guarantee the accuracy and integrity of promotional material. They also support product strategy development and guidelines for the company's investigational products by providing feedback about healthcare professionals’ needs.

Due to the nature of their work interacting with healthcare providers and external stakeholders who make critical medical treatment decisions, MSLs must be balanced and operate ethically. By reinforcing compliant and ethical business practices among field medical personnel, companies more effectively position MSLs as reliable and credible collaborators. Certification provides this reinforcement.

At a baseline, MSLs possess specific scientific training and proven academic credentials, usually a doctorate (PhD., MD, or PharmD) degree in the health sector. MSLs then build up their expertise by concentrating activity in specific therapeutic areas (Cardiology, Oncology, CNS, etc.) and specific disease states. Adding certification makes MSLs more effective in their external roles and elevates their ability to communicate cross-functionally within their organizations.

The MSL is Vital for the Success in the Pharmaceutical Industry

MSLs play a role in all stages of the product life cycle, supporting investigators with clinical research opportunities, acting as scientific collaborators with the scientific community and supporting existing products by disseminating data and communicating insights from the field. MSLs are also direct collaborators to other internal departments, contributing scientific knowledge and providing medical and scientific support when necessary.

All these functions have a primary objective: to establish and maintain an equal relationship with healthcare professionals and external experts who lead medical knowledge in hospitals and academic institutions. Upjohn Pharmaceuticals first established the MSL position in 1967 in response to a need for scientific training directly in the field.

Throughout these years and until now, pharmaceutical companies have used different names to denote the liaison function. These individuals have been called Medical Liaisons, Medical Managers, Regional Scientific Managers, Clinical Liaisons and Scientific Affairs Liaisons among other titles.

The first MSLs were originally selected from the sales organization. Companies selected sales representatives who demonstrated extensive scientific and clinical knowledge and expertise in developing relationships and communicating with health professionals to fill out their MSL teams.

Starting in the late 1980s, a small number of companies began requiring doctorate degrees from their MSL teams. Although historically, educational standards for MSL teams have not required doctorate degrees, companies currently often require this level of education of their liaisons. Over the years, companies have staffed their MSL teams with sales staff who have scientific expertise, nurses, doctors, and other life sciences professionals, many of whom possess postgraduate degrees, and prior clinical experience. Approximately 70% of MSLs today possess doctorate degrees.

Medical science liaisons also require continuous training in the specific therapeutic areas where they operate. They need resources to improve their skills and knowledge in communication, market access, regulatory affairs, pharmacovigilance, clinical trials and compliance, among other areas.

Although the MSL function is evolving, and it is a relatively small group compared to other sectors of the pharmaceutical industry, these professionals exponentially grow in number. According to studies provided by the pharmaceutical industries, the role of MSL has grown by an average of 76% per year since 2005.

Within this evolution, the fundamental principles of the MSL role now includes:

  • Serves as a resource and connection to the company for healthcare providers and external stakeholders.
  • Acts as an internal medical/scientific expert to support cross-functional teams.
  • Possesses in-depth knowledge of medical treatments to generate data and perspectives that address unmet medical needs and explain products’ clinical efficacy to healthcare providers.
  • Demonstrates integrity and ethical behavior.
  • Provides high-quality medical service to internal and external stakeholders.
  • Exchanges complex medical and scientific information to ensure the safe and appropriate use of the company's products.

While MSL activities are not promotional in nature or intent, the scope of what is legally considered “advocacy” is so broad that there is a natural inclination to scrutinize the position. This scrutiny requires MSLs to closely collaborate with Legal/Compliance and Regulatory departments within the organization. MSLs’ objectives and activities should be guided not by marketing and sales objectives, but by medical needs. MSLs do not receive prescription-based incentives and are not evaluated on sales or market share. These are not key performance indicators for evaluating medical affairs professionals.

Obtain a board certification from the Accreditation Council for Medical Affairs

The Accreditation Council for Medical Affairs (ACMA) is an internationally recognized organization that provides certification for MSLs and medical affairs professionals. It is the only accredited organization to provide MSL certification, making the ACMA the most reliable resource for certifying MSLs. The ACMA has currently certified more than 5,000 professionals around the world in more than 70 countries. The Board Certified Medical Affairs Specialist (BCMAS) program has graduated medical affairs professionals who currently work in more than 200 pharmaceutical, biotechnology and medical device companies.

The ACMA’s certifications open opportunities for MSL professionals who are looking to secure an edge as they progress through their careers. The BCMAS certification is known as the benchmark standard for MSLs and medical affairs professionals.

Author's Bio: 

Martin Gray is done BSc Degree in MediaLab Arts from the University of Plymouth. He currently lives in New York City. He is a fantastic and reliable content creator with an inspiring and clear vision. He has his own blog on: Martin Gray Blogs