Interaction between MSLs and Commercial Teams Follow Strict Rules
Medical Science Liaisons (MSLs) are in the field (almost) every day and so are their field-based commercial colleagues, specifically sales representatives. Although they interact with the same people, healthcare providers (HCPs) and experts such as key opinion leaders (KOLs) in particular, professionals in medical and commercial roles need to make sure to keep their distance from each other and avoid even the appearance of merging their distinctive roles. MSLs are trusted scientific advisors to HCPs, who provide truthful, non-misleading medical and scientific information, whereas the sales rep’s focus is commercial and promotional and geared towards convincing the HCP of the merits of the company’s drug.
While the difference between the job of an MSL and that of a sales rep sounds straightforward in theory, in practice, there is a fine line that both MSLs and sales reps must be very careful not to cross.
Walking the Fine Line Between Scientific Information and Commercial Activity
This blog provides a short summary of these danger zones, where the line between a scientific and commercial exchange might be easy to blur or accidentally step over. For a comprehensive overview we recommend reading the “Medical Science Liaison Guidelines” published by the Medical Science Liaison Society.
MSLs have an important role to play in KOL mapping and selection but need to stay squarely on the scientific/medical side of things. An expert’s reputation in the scientific community, their publication record, or clinical studies that might align with the MSL’s medical plan, are fair game. However, commercial factors, e.g. the KOL’s potential to prescribe the company’s drug, are off limits and cannot be a factor an MSL considers when evaluating KOL candidates.
Meeting with HPCs and KOLs
On first glance, joint meetings of MSLs and commercial representatives with a KOL seem like an efficient way to conduct business. However, such a meeting would clearly mix scientific exchange and promotional discussion and is therefore prohibited. An MSL and field sales personnel should never jointly visit a healthcare provider.
There is one exception to this rule: introductory meetings. An initial, introductory meeting between the MSL and the KOL can happen with a commercial representative present. However, the scope of such a meeting is extremely limited to exchanging contact information and reviewing areas of expertise. During the introductory meetings the MSL needs to diligently stay away from any discussion of off-label uses of the drug (scientific or otherwise) and promotional activities of any kind. Should the discussion veer into the commercial, the MSL should leave the room.
Both MSLs and commercial representatives collect data about the HCPs they interact with. The information gathered during these visits needs to be handled so that the separation of scientific exchange and promotional discussions is preserved. Concretely this means that an MSL can share basic information about the date and time of a visit and – after the meeting – give a general overview of the topics that were discussed but can’t divulge any specific details or share the HCPs feedback and perceptions.
Conferences, Educational Programs, Symposia
Medical conferences and meetings are one of the areas where the wall between the medical and commercial teams is the most difficult to implement, especially if the company has a booth. Since the booth will likely be staffed with members of the commercial team, MSLs can’t meet their KOL colleagues there to discuss scientific topics. These discussions need to happen in a separate designated area that can only be staffed by medical affairs personnel.
In addition to meeting with KOLs and HCPs for medical/scientific discussions, MSLs can attend scientific sessions, poster sessions, and symposia.
Educational programs offered by the company have to be non-commercial/promotional and therefore cannot include any commercial personnel.
As scientific subject matter experts, MSLs can provide training to their commercial colleagues. Educating them about the underlying science of the disease, the therapeutic area, and providing scientific updates or overviews are all fair game. The topic to stay far away from however, is discussion of any off-label indications.
These rules might seem stringent, but they are necessary to keep the roles of medical science liaisons and sales representatives clearly separated and distinct. While sales representatives are tasked with discussing the (on label uses) of the company’s marketed products, the MSLs need to take all necessary steps to remain credible in their role as objective professionals that the HCPs can reach out to when they are looking for balanced, non-promotional scientific information.