Thoughts on the MSL Society’s Inaugural Conference

April 17, 2013

Industry Insights from Paul Meade, M.Sc, MPH

Allison Murphy and I had the pleasure of participating in the MSL Society’s inaugural global conference and gala in Philadelphia earlier this month.  At Thought Leader Select, we always enjoy the opportunity to meet some of our great colleagues in medical affairs in the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and device industries, but this event proved to be really special.

Since joining our company last year, Allison has continued to make a real impact in the medical affairs community.  After serving much of the last decade in Eli Lilly’s medical affairs division in support of the company’s endocrinology portfolio, Allison has brought a wealth of medical affairs expertise to Thought Leader Select. This expertise has continued to evolve, even as a consultant, through her membership and advisory board participation with the MSL Society, a dynamic group that we are proud to support as a company.

Dr. Samuel Dyer, the founder and head of the MSL Society, approached us a few months ago, asking for help with the burgeoning organization’s first global event.  As a veteran of the industry myself, I have participated in many events through the years, as a participant, speaker, and sponsor. I must admit that I was more than a little skeptical about another conference/event series emerging in a space with lots of competition, but we put our faith in the MSL Society’s non-profit mission to increase the viability of the MSL role in shaping industry collaborations with key opinion leaders in medicine.  Obviously, the Society’s mission aligns perfectly with that of Thought Leader Select, and we were eager to see if the new organization could find its feet in the education and networking space for industry professionals.

To say that the organization pulled off its first big meeting of the minds in global affairs would be an understatement.  From the outset, the MSL Society pulled in a great team of sponsors.  We benefitted directly, in our own sponsorship role, from the team at Global Prairie, a conference sponsor that also chipped in with some stellar event management.  From a sponsorship standpoint, the Society lined up a diverse group representing the worlds of KOL strategy, medical communications, contract medical affairs, and contract clinical trial research.

We all know that in any event, content is king, and this conference delivered in royal fashion.   The conference brought together a speaker roster encompassing the greatest diversity I’ve seen to date, in terms of expressing the different roles that MSLs play in not only pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, but also in diagnostics, medical devices, and CROs.  Furthermore, the conference featured the perspectives of leaders from companies of all shapes and sizes, from global giants like Bayer, AZ and BMS to small, innovative players like Corcept Therapeutics, represented by David Cram.

Allison and I particularly enjoyed presentations from Mitch Trujillo and Stewart Rosen, of Bayer and Quintiles, respectively.  It’s always great to learn how others in the industry are applying the best people and resources to optimize interactions and collaborations with the thought leaders that drive bringing new treatments effectively into the marketplace.  Mitch Trujillo, who heads up global medical affairs excellence at Bayer, left us with a particularly salient thought—while we focus from our own company perspective on ensuring our clients work with the right KOLs at the right times for the right reasons, he pointed out an equal level of responsibility for industry, that companies must properly match the right MSLs with KOLs, based on the skills, experience, and interests of the MSLs themselves.

Dr. Rosen gave us some great perspectives on the roles that MSLs play in the realm of CROs like Quintiles.  Since Quintiles is a global player, the company takes a market-by-market approach to matching MSLs with the highest-impact activities with thought leaders.  For example, here in the U.S., MSLs focus on collaborating with KOLs to optimize clinical trial recruitment and participation, while in Latin America, the MSL force takes on an expanded role with thought leaders.

A recurring theme throughout the conference was key measurements for success of MSLs in the industry.  Regardless of whether you are a pharmaceutical, biotech, devices, diagnostics, or CRO company, it has historically been difficult in applying hard-ROI measures to MSL activities with KOLs.  In the absence of these hard measurements, many have opted to apply alternative measures, such as number of visits and presentations made to KOLs, as well as qualitative measurements of the potential impact of presentation content.

The bottom line for the event’s content was that MSLs, in their ever-evolving, critical role in collaboration with medical thought leaders, must always strive to bring value to their key opinion leader panels.  As more and more KOLs themselves struggle with the demands of their research, teaching, and clinical work, access will never stop being an issue for MSLs.  With that in mind, MSLs must plan their engagements in the most effective manner possible—there’s never a “routine” visit, since the physicians pushing the advancement of the field simply don’t have time for that.  MSLs must always be the bearers of critical knowledge that assists the individual KOL in his or her work advancing new treatment standards.  What a critical role to play, indeed!

We’d like to thank Dr. Dyer and the MSL Society, as well as the other sponsoring companies, the speakers, and the participants, for making this event one to remember.  The best measure of this type of event is the answer to this question—did this event leave you better-equipped for what you face in the field.  From our perspective at Thought Leader Select, the answer is an emphatic, “Yes!” We look forward to seeing everyone, as well as new faces, at the next meeting of the MSL Society in Paris this fall.

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