Medical Affairs – Bright Future Driven by Data
It is not the first time we say this: healthcare is rapidly changing and is driven by several different factors, chief among them our ability to create ever-increasing amounts of data ever faster – and also our increasing ability to make sense of them.
According to Bernard Marr writing for Forbes, estimates suggest that we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day, tendency: increasing. To put it differently: Over the last two years alone, 90 percent of the data in the world was generated.
While this number doesn’t exclusively pertain to healthcare data, the trend in healthcare is similar, driven by a number of developments. specifically:
- Wearable devices
- Real-world evidence, incl. electronic medical records
- Availability of genomics data
Using artificial intelligence algorithms, which allow mining and interpretation of all that data generated and more are yet to come. Much progress has been made over the last few years, but with ever better and faster tools, our ability to generate and make sense of data is bound to increase dramatically.
That begs the question: what are we going to do with all that data and ultimately the information and insights we derive from them, and – just as importantly – who within pharmaceutical companies will be responsible for managing and disseminating it.
Medical Affairs Bright Future
A recently released study by McKinsey suggests that medical affairs departments are the logical place for all that information to be collected, managed, utilized and disseminated. Medical affairs already own the task of providing unbiased and scientifically deep information; they are the ones who build a strong relationship with different stakeholders and answer scientific and medical questions about the company’s products.
“… offers Medical Affairs the opportunity to leave behind its former status as principally a support function and to forge a new role as a primary strategic pillar of the organization alongside Research and Development, Commercial, and Market Access.” – A Vision for Medical Affairs in 2025, McKinsey
It is only logical that medical affairs teams continue that trend in their now vastly-expanded role.
There are several ways in which medical affairs could expand their footprint and importance within the organization in this scenario. Let’s look at them individually.
Distilling Insights from More and Disparate Data to Benefit Patients
Medicine will be increasingly personalized. The blockbuster drug based business model has been declared obsolescent for many years, but we are finally at the cusp of it happening. Personalized treatments mean collecting more data and then identifying and analyzing the data relevant to a particular patient in a specific situation.
While the extent and level of personalization that will be needed are new to medical affairs teams, the task itself isn’t. Getting the “right”-i.e. relevant information to healthcare providers (HCPs) – has long been one of the essential responsibilities of medical affairs, particularly of medical science liaisons (MSLs). This information will have to be even more targeted and customized to the individual patient, but the primary task remains essentially the same.
Providing Information for New Stakeholders
Healthcare providers are the classical stakeholders for pharmaceutical companies. Others, such as payers and patients, while not exactly “new” stakeholders, are bound to become more important. The focus on value-based care in addition to more complex treatments, especially in oncology, will make it necessary to convey complex medical data along with economic assessments to payers.
Patients, meanwhile, are presently better informed about their conditions.The level of patient awareness of treatment options and the associated risks of treatment is higher than ever before, thanks not just to “Dr. Google” but also the increased accessibility for patients to connect with patient advocacy groups on various social media platforms. Medical affairs teams are in a good position to provide patients and patient advocates the information they are looking for in a format that is understandable and relatable to lay people.
Accurate information and timely delivery are essential for both of these stakeholder groups, and medical affairs is the department with the most experience in handling that task as they have been in charge of providing information to HCPs for decades.
Adopting New Technologies to Facilitate the Flow of Information
Big data and digitalization are the key concepts when envisioning a future where medical affairs departments are a central, strategic part of every pharmaceutical company. New technologies are already being applied to generate and analyze unprecedented amounts of data. This data will be increasingly used to provide patient-level targeted information, and digital technology will play a key role in getting that information to healthcare providers, patients, or other stakeholders in a timely fashion. Medical affairs, especially the field based team members, already rely more and more on remote interactions with HCPs and key opinion leaders. As physicians need more just-in-time, personalized information, this trend will increase, and medical affairs are well positioned to take on the challenge.
Managing the Information Flow into the Organization
Information traditionally flows overwhelmingly from the company to outside stakeholders, mainly HCPs. With the increasing importance of real-world evidence, more and more information is bound to flow from the outside back to the company and needs to be directed to the appropriate recipients. Again, medical affairs with their experience handling and providing data are in an excellent position to play a crucial role in this task.
Given the current developments, medical affairs are looking to gain importance within pharmaceutical organizations. By 2015, the McKinsey study suggests, Medical might be a third strategic pillar alongside R&D and Commercial rather than a support function. With the vision of a bright future before them, the next step is the massive task of figuring out how to get from here to there.