The number of Medical Science Liaison (MSL) vacancies is on the rise. As more and more drugs come to market, pharma companies are rapidly increasing the number of MSLs they employ. So could this be a suitable and attractive career choice for you? If you like reading and talking about science read on as former postdoc Martijn Bijker, founder/director of ‘fromSCIENCE to PHARMA’ explains the role of an MSL:
“Like many scientists, I enjoy reading and discussing new cool science with my fellow colleagues. However, when I was a postdoc I found that reading and talking about science was generally overwhelmed by doing day-to-day experiments. Working for hours on end behind a flow cytometry machine in a dark place, I frequently found myself feeling quite lonely (and bored). The fun part of “doing” science was being eroded and so after 3.5 years of postdocing, I decided to move into a Medical Science Liaison (MSL) role in the pharmaceutical industry at Abbott. And so began a new career for me that ticked all the boxes on the science menu that I had missed during my postdoc.”
Companies hire MSLs to help bring innovative new drugs to market; they are the scientific and clinical disease and drug experts working within the medical (affairs) department of a pharmaceutical or biotech company. This includes knowing how the drug works – its mode of action (MOA), questioning the disease and patient profiles, how to prevent or treat an adverse event or questioning the clinical trials from your own and competitor companies. These so-called pipeline molecules are tested in healthy individuals and/or in actual patients with the hope that these new drugs will do better than the current standard of care/best supportive care.
MSLs work at the interface between internal stakeholders in the pharma company and external stakeholders in the field – called Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs). KOLs, broadly defined as leaders in their field, can be heads of departments at teaching hospitals, heads of pharmacies, professors of medicine, the CEO of a patient organisation, physicians involved in pharmaceutical clinical trials and sometimes clinical scientists themselves. Having discussions with KOLs – often referring to clinical papers and conference information – helps MSLs to gain relevant insights, allowing internal stakeholders to devise the best strategy to make a treatment a clinical success for the patient, the treating doctor and the company.
As an MSL you have to be up-to-date on the latest literature and be a good communicator, since you are working with the most influential stakeholders in the country. Having a pharmacy or scientific degree and strong personal and communication skills is essential to breaking into the MSL role. Because of the highly scientific and clinical nature of the MSL job without you having to directly sell anything, it has become a very popular career choice for pharmacists/MSc/PhDs/postdocs who enjoy talking science for a (very well paid) living.
“The combination of being a disease expert, reading clinical papers, discussing science with top clinicians in the field, having autonomy in your role and being able to travel a bit (across the globe to international conferences) was for me the ideal science job outside academia, while at the same time being able to influence how patients are being treated, and will be treated in the future, with the most innovative drugs on the market.”
To find out more about this up-and-coming career and how to break into it visit Martijn’s training company website www.fromSCIENCEtoPHARMA.com and join their free MSL webinar on “How to become an MSL without industry experience” by signing up at www.fromSCIENCEtoPHARMA.com/resources.