Life as a medical scientific liaison
The Medical Scientific Liaison (MSL) role has not been common place in many pharmaceutical companies throughout Asia. However it is increasingly gaining importance as companies are keen to engage thought leaders on more scientific issues in the industry.
An MSL is typically out of the office about 70% of the time, meeting Key Opinion Leaders (KOL) in the industry. The other 30% of the time is spent in the office catching up on the latest medical news. MSLs help others interpret and understand clinical data during the pre-launch and launch phases of drugs. They also engage thought leaders when there are new indications for these compounds.
MSL vs. Medical Advisor
The difference in responsibilities between the MSL and Medical Advisor is blurred because the MSL role is new. MSLs typically handle external communication, engaging in scientific discussions with key opinion leaders in the industry. Medical Advisors predominantly oversee internal governance, sales and marketing training as well as the approval of medical and marketing materials within the organisation. They are expected to have a medical degree.
A scientific degree and a keen interest in pharmaceuticals are sufficient to qualify for an MSL role.
Key skills required
The key skills required to be an MSL are highly variable. Some companies require candidates to have a medical degree because the MSL is expected to develop peer-to-peer relationships with thought leaders, a task requiring substantial scientific knowledge. Other companies do not expect MSL candidates to have a medical degree. A scientific degree and a keen interest in pharmaceuticals are sufficient to qualify for an MSL role. Successful MSLs understand the science behind the compounds and are able to interpret clinical data as well as derive implications from the data for patients. They form relationships quickly and nurture them overtime to become a trusted source of information for physicians.
Career development prospects
Traditionally in Asia, the MSL role is viewed as a transitionary one and is practiced for a few years before moving on to commercial roles internally, or a more advanced role within the medical field such as the Medical Advisor position. In the United States and Australia the MSL role is seen as a viable and permanent career option where some MSLs have remained in their role for 15 years. More and more companies are investing in the MSL position as it has proven to be a vital tool for their business moving forward. With more MSLs, pharmaceutical companies will be able to engage the medical community on a more scientific level than what has been done before.
In order to be a successful MSL, you need to have a genuine interest in the science of pharmaceuticals and engage with people on the most recent research. If you are able to speak knowledgeably and derive satisfaction from the relationships that you form, the MSL role is a strong option for you.