(Part 1 of 3)
This is the first article of our 3-part series, “Medical Affairs 2022: Where We’ve Been and Where We’re Going”. In this series, we’ll be highlighting some general trends that the pharmaceutical industry has been witnessing in the recent past along with some focus areas for the coming years.
In recent years, Medical Affairs (MA) has become a crucial strategic focal point for pharmaceutical companies looking to communicate with the market. Some of the trends that are responsible for bringing MA to the center stage include the following:
- Prescribers are showing more interest in obtaining clinical information about drugs and treatments as consumerism grows in healthcare. This is also important because scientific messaging is evolving with the use of social media, and scientific expertise and credible media for information dissemination are more valuable than ever.
- There is an increasing demand for real world data – both clinical data and health economics and outcomes research (HEOR)-related data.
- Healthcare professionals (HCPs) are becoming increasingly familiar with the use of digital technology, and digitization is gaining traction in clinics as well as in the broad field of healthcare.
- Pharma has accelerated its efforts toward increasing health literacy, especially after COVID-19. With the public now demanding more accurate and transparent medical and scientific information, MA teams and the pharma industry need to focus on clear communication and go beyond just creating materials that meet a specific “grade level” requirement.
Going forward, traditional sales representatives will need MA to supplement educational initiatives to meet the needs of our ever-changing climate. MA will continue to be a trusted partner of the scientific community as well as an unbiased and reliable source of medical information for HCPs.
Breaking Medical Affairs out of the silo
To reduce public mistrust, pharma needs to provide unbiased medical information. To achieve this, MA cannot be viewed solely as an outward-facing communication channel. Thus, “Big Pharma” is exploring ways to encourage bi-directional flow of information such that the perspectives and requirements of all stakeholders are considered. The role of MA in such a scenario is to identify gaps in the data and be actively involved in shaping strategies accordingly. Some other areas where MA can play an active role are participation in early drug development decisions, identifying partnership opportunities, for example, with patient advocacy groups, and ensuring that health literacy is taken into consideration for all patient communication.
Interestingly, a poll that included CEOs and CMOs of pharma companies as participants showed a clear gap between what MA does and what is expected of this function. There was a consensus among survey respondents on wanting to see the Commercial and MA arms work together cross-functionally. Major insights gathered from this poll:
- There is an urgent need for MA to shift its focus to creating and implementing a long-term strategic view rather than annual plans.
- MA needs to increase their use of technology and omnichannel engagement.
- MA needs to get involved in internal decision-making and interact more optimally with the R&D and Commercial arms.
- Product strategies lack sufficient medical/scientific insights.
At present, the essential functions of MA include medical education and communication, pharmacovigilance, regulatory compliance, evidence generation, alliance and partner management, face-to-face stakeholder management, and working with publication and professional societies to bring the latest research out.
However, there is scope for MA to expand into functions like early clinical development decision-making, patient support and engagement, and advanced data analytics. MA can also venture into value and access (especially HEOR), product strategy including non-personal promotion (NPP), brand and lifecycle management (LCM) strategy, business development and licensing, integrated evidence planning (IEP), as well as stakeholder market research and insights and intelligence on competitors and customers. Some companies are already doing this.
Diversifying the Medical Affairs customer base with future focus areas in mind
In the US, MA is already moving beyond the traditional KOL-only engagement model. MA is expanding its customer map to engage with hospital networks, community groups, prominent digital influencers, payers, and patient advocacy groups to revamp the market strategy and keep pace with the evolving market trends. This is a necessary step to understand rich field medical insights.
Furthermore, moving forward, 75% of KOLs based in the US will likely incline toward the use of telemedicine and other digital resources. For this, they want MA to assist them with web-based tools and solutions. This is where medical information and medical education teams can help, as these professionals provide physicians with accurate information for good healthcare decision-making when treating patients.
Thus, MA will grow in stature as the scientific face of pharma, being required to provide high-quality medical content across disease and therapeutic areas. MA teams will also be required to have knowledge of the associated disease states, drug-to-drug interactions, impact of comorbidities, etc. In short, MA will emerge as a frontline strategic division to enhance customer satisfaction through a smooth and seamless experience, and MA teams will need to be sharper, smarter, and more agile than ever before.