MSL-KOL Engagement [2020]

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Publication Date:
July 2020
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Maintaining and growing KOL relationships in pandemic lockdown

At a stroke, the COVID-19 pandemic shut down MSL's principal KOL engagement channels. With face-to-face interactions on hold, MSLs have turned to videoconferencing and accelerated the use of virtual advisory boards. But is that delivering the same quality of engagement? How can MSLs expand their KOL network when conferences are cancelled? How has COVID-19 changed KOL expectations and MSL working practice? What COVID-19 driven changes might be retained post-pandemic?

To explore how MSL practice is developing and assess how teams are responding to COVID-19 pressures, we interviewed, in July 2020, experienced MSL leaders from companies such as Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Biodesix. In MSL-KOL Engagement they identify the key challenges of, and practical responses to, the pandemic and the changes that are – and will – drive MSL practice development.

MSL experts explore key questions such as...

  • What changes are there in working practices as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and how might some of these changes pan out in the longer term?
  • What are the main channels of communication between MSLs and KOLs at the start of a new relationship and during an established relationship and which are best in each case?
  • How is the use of online meeting platforms and virtual advisory boards expected to change beyond the immediate needs of the pandemic?
  • What proportion of an MSL's time is spent identifying and profiling KOLs and what are the most important considerations when looking for a new KOL with whom to engage?
  • What has been the impact of the pandemic in terms of how information is exchanged with KOLs?
  • What impact has the coronavirus pandemic had on gathering and recording insights and then disseminating that information with colleagues?

What MSL leaders say...

"Successful MSLs post-pandemic will be bearing that balance of virtual versus live meetings, understand that the values to the KOL will be changed forever and that we have to reassess what it means to bring value to the HCPs and KOLs and our clinical community that we support. We need to be able to help them be successful in the use of technology and virtual meetings themselves. Most leaders in the medical affairs field agree there will be a new or updated definition of what it means to bring value to KOLs post-pandemic. The successful MSLs will have to be able to navigate that and not force their way back into the old world order."
Linda Traylor, Biodesix

"We've already done a couple of virtual ad boards. Obviously, many congresses have also gone virtual during this time. But I also see a change coming even in the way you think about an ad board; it's a one-shot, three- or four-hour engagement. There's no reason why you can't get insights over a period of days, rather than hours, if you have a virtual platform, and have the participants provide commentary online, build on each other's comments, and have a facilitator asking questions now and again. I can certainly see there may be a shift more towards that, rather than how pharma's traditionally set up advisory boards by bringing everybody in somewhere for a day, maybe two, and then sending them back. That's a great cost saving as well, because you don't have to worry about the logistics of travel and coordinating hotel rooms, or meeting space."
Eddie Power, Pfizer

"Getting a new relationship through emails is slowly disappearing and face-to-face at conferences was pre-pandemic. I would say social media is one of the ways we are starting to see some success because it's easy to track people down via social media. Because of all of the meetups and the things that occur on Twitter and social media that are real time, you know where people are and it's easier to get these drive-by types of engagement for an introduction. That allows some of the email and text exchanges to start to happen. Once you have a relationship, it's mostly email and text. Outside of technology, it is networking, networking and networking. Being introduced to a new KOL from a peer will always be the most effective way to start a new relationship, regardless of the communication channel used to make the introduction."
Linda Traylor, Biodesix

What to expect

A detailed report exploring MSL challenges in regard to building and maintaining relationships with key opinion leaders and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on expectations and working practices:

  • An examination of 9 key issues that driving MSL/KOL engagement strategies
  • 25 targeted questions put to senior MSL experts
  • Their responses which provided 50 insights supported by 78 directly quoted comments

Deliverables: Includes PDF report and PowerPoint slide deck

MSL-KOL Engagement is delivered as:

  • A detailed PDF report including all insights, quotes and intelligence exhibits
  • A useful PowerPoint slide deck providing a summary of the report's key findings for use in presentations and to share with colleagues

Expert contributors

Experts contributing to this report have been screened to ensure they:

  • Are an experienced/senior Medical Science Liaison (MSL) or MSL manager/medical affairs leader working in a pharmaceutical or medical device company in the US or Europe
  • Were aware of the current and evolving issues for MSL teams during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Have deep knowledge and understanding of the current capabilities of MSL teams in healthcare companies
  • Have the ability to identify/understand where there may be gaps that should be addressed to optimize the capabilities required as the demands of the healthcare market evolve post-pandemic

Experts interviewed included

  • Alexander Garrard, Director, Field MSL Team at Boston Scientific. Dr Garrard received his Doctor of Pharmacy degree from Mercer University College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences in Atlanta, Georgia. After working in the community, Dr Garrard pursued a post-graduate two-year clinical toxicology/emergency medicine fellowship with the Florida/USVI Poison Information Center in Jacksonville, FL. Dr Garrard is a board-certified clinical toxicologist and joined Boston Scientific in 2017 as a Medical Science Liaison focusing on CroFab. He currently works as the Director of Field Medical Affairs providing leadership, support and medical strategy for three products: CroFab, Voraxaze, and DigiFab, as well as managing a team of field MSLs.
  • Linda Traylor, Vice President, Clinical Development & Medical Affairs, Biodesix. Dr Traylor is a published scientist and has served as a Medical and Clinical Affairs professional in the healthcare industry for more than 20 years. Her career has spanned big pharma companies, mid-sized pharma, cell therapy and medical devices, and cancer diagnostics. At Biodesix, as the Head of Clinical Development and Medical Affairs, Dr Traylor works cross-functionally to advance diagnostics from early stage development to post-market clinical utility studies, constantly exploring ways to implement new tools to maximize study design for optimal patient outcomes.
  • Eddie Power, Vice President, North America Medical Affairs, Hospital Business at Pfizer. He started his career at Pfizer leading US teams in Vaccines and Infectious Diseases before assuming US Medical Affairs leadership for Pfizer's Essential Health Business Unit. Before joining Pfizer, Dr Power held Medical Affairs and Clinical Development positions at Cubist, Schering-Plough, Bayer and GSK. He currently is on the Faculty of the International Federation of Associations of Pharmaceutical Physicians and Pharmaceutical Medicine (IFAPP) Academy/Kings College Medicines Development Certification Program and is a Global Fellow in Medicines Development. He holds a PhD degree from the Welsh School of Pharmacy, University of Wales, UK and an MBA from Henley Management College, UK.
  • Paul Ward, National Liaison Lead Oncology/Haematology at AstraZeneca and MSL Advisory Board Member, MSL Society is an experienced national leader of Medical Science Liaisons with a demonstrated history of working in the pharmaceuticals industry in haematology and oncology. Strengths include working cross-functionally, focusing on appropriate commercial partnerships, working collaboratively with industry partners and evolving Medical Affairs stakeholders.
  • Xavier Thompson is a Medical Science Liaison for Alcon. He graduated with a Doctorate of Optometry from Salus University after earning a Master's degree in clinical research from Drexel University College of Medicine. He spent three years in private practice before transitioning into a clinical outcomes liaison role. Among the responsibilities in his current role, he develops and maintains peer-to-peer relationships with medical experts/key opinion leaders in the field of ophthalmic surgery including cataract, refractive, glaucoma and vit/ret.
  • Josh Yoder, Medical Science Liaison, uniQure and Advisory Board Member of the Medical Science Liaison Society. Josh is an experienced MSL, having previously worked at Vertex Pharmaceuticals and Sanofi Pasteur, where he established and maintained relationships with key opinion leaders in vaccines. Dr Yoder has a PhD in virology from Harvard University and studied virus structure and viral interactions with cellular receptor and immunological molecules as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at both Purdue University and Penn State University.
  • Anonymous, Executive Director/National Head of MSL Team, Biotech Company, US
  • Anonymous, MSL Manager, Top 10 Pharma Company, Europe

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