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What is a medical science liaison and how can you become one?

Medical science liaisons (MSLs) are the key to driving patient access to new therapies. They receive advanced scientific training and use their superior communication skills to translate complex information in a way that key stakeholders will understand.

Working at pharmaceutical, biotechnology and medical device companies, MSLs play an essential role within medical affairs – a market valued at $1.4 billion in 2020. It's an MSLs role to ensure effective communication right from clinical development and drive commercial success. Let's delve a little deeper into what an MSL does and how you can become one.

What does a medical science liaison do?

Life sciences is a market that demands transparent and compliant communication, and this is where an MSL steps in. They have a distinct role at every stage of the product lifecycle. For example, early in development, an MSL will build awareness of the product and the science behind it. At post-launch, addressing prescriber questions will become a large part of the role.

MSLs also inform business strategy and ensure that products are utilised effectively. It's not hard to see that it is a complex role, but at the very heart of it is the mission to help patients gain access to the right therapies. And, no two days are the same for an MSL, making it an ideal job for someone who likes being stimulated and challenged.

An MSL will engage with key opinion leaders (KOLs) and physicians. Though their role is not to sell a product, they do sell the science behind the product. MSLs educate KOLs and other healthcare professionals (HCPs) on the scientific development of the treatment or the therapy area itself. They also educate internal stakeholders, including key account managers, market access managers and medical sales reps. MSLs ensure these internal stakeholders remain informed about clinical data, disease knowledge and the organisation’s medical strategy.

What is the demand for medical science liaisons?

We’re seeing a rise in the demand for MSLs in response to the need to communicate increasingly complex scientific information. This can be attributed to both the development of personalised medicine and changing biopharma product portfolios. And, as more companies recognise the vital role that MSLs play in building a network amongst HCPs and KOLs, the demand for these professionals will continue to climb.

What medical science liaison qualifications do you need?

MSLs are known for their advanced scientific knowledge, and to secure this role you’ll need to show evidence of this expertise. There are three medical science liaison qualifications that are common amongst MSLs - a Medical Doctor (MD), Pharmacist (PharmD) or PhD. Though it was once possible to secure an MSL job if you have experience as a sales rep or a nursing background, the field has become competitive. According to the Medical Science Liaison Society, 77% of MSLs have a doctorate degree.

What therapy can you work in?

PwC predicts that spending on supportive care for cancer will reach $200 billion in 2022, which explains why more MSLs work in oncology than any other therapy area. Why is the demand for oncology services increasing? The reason is twofold: a higher number of patients who need cancer care and a demand for increasingly complex cancer treatments. Other key therapeutic areas include neurology, orphan diseases, haematology, immunology, cardiovascular and dermatology.

What experience do you need?

Landing an MSL job without experience in the role can be tricky, but that’s not to say it’s not possible. When figuring out how to kickstart your medical affairs career, how you market yourself will make all the difference. This means networking with other MSLs and tailoring your medical science liaison CV so that it showcases all the skills needed to be a successful MSL. Remember that although you might not have direct experience working as an MSL, this does not mean you aren’t qualified for the job.

Take your medical science liaison career to new heights with IQVIA

Bring your career to IQVIA and you’ll get the opportunity to travel locally and internationally and work with world-class medical and scientific experts. Apply for a medical science liaison job with IQVIA and help us to make a difference in improving patient care.

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