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Smart Thinking blog

Insights and expert advice on the key issues facing today’s pharma marketer

The call for a more strategic medical affairs community

How its leaders are stepping up to the plate


Shifting demands are causing Medical Affairs to broaden its remit, transforming the function from what was traditionally a supportive role into a strategic decision-maker and trusted scientific partner. In order for Medical Affairs to ‘grow up’ and assume a position at the decision-making table, it needs to evolve and mature, with leadership in strategy and launches, data generation and distribution, insight creation and new approaches to external stakeholder outreach forming the foundation of a transformative
MA organisation.

The Medical Affairs Professional Society (MAPS), a virtual community of MA leaders was formed 18 months ago to elevate the function in response to a rapidly changing operating landscape.

The philosophy of MAPS is that it’s a society by medical affairs for medical affairs and for former MAPS President Kirk Shepard, who is Senior Vice President and Head of Global Medical Affairs Oncology at Eisai, therein lies its strength. “Our philosophy at the start was that this wasn’t going to be driven by a few people but as a concerted global effort. We want to constantly stay in tune with the medical affairs’ community around the world. For MAPS to be an agent of change, we need to bring together the best of what’s happening in isolated pockets around the globe and together devise how we will best adapt to meet future needs.”

Agent of change

Given the significant changes in the healthcare landscape, this is an appropriate time to reassess and redefine the vision for Medical Affairs. The customer base is far broader now, with payers and regulators looking for evidence of the medical, clinical and economic value of medicines. The needs of the medical community have expanded enormously, together with the technical complexity associated with the interactions. “Increasingly therapies are being designed for the individual patient, customised to their needs and because of that complexity, there is an intense, profound scientific conversation that needs to happen between the patient and those who are going to use the therapy,” says Paul Tebbey, Therapeutic Area Head, Oncology at Abbvie who presented a workshop at MAPS’ annual meeting. He believes MAPS will play an imperative role in the future of Medical Affairs especially relative to where the industry is going with the complexity of healthcare. “MA is considered to be a support role. In fact, Medical Affairs really should be guiding and leading the use of therapies to patients. MAPS can help us build that platform, that foundation to grow and learn by bringing together that medical expertise and formulating it into a plan of action moving forward.”

Medical Affairs as a function will continue to grow in strategic importance. What does the future hold for the development of the function? Tebbey sees MA being an agent of change within the industry. “We have the capacity to take all of the information that’s available, outside and within the company and collectively communicate that to all the different stakeholders. Certainly MA can evolve into that strategic leadership role and change where the industry is going in the future and that will become ever more important.”

Proximity to the patient

According to Stanislav Glezer, Chief Medical Officer at Adocia, this clarity of purpose is essential to a function that is stretched and pulled in a multitude of directions. “MA has been the hub for data generation, interpretation and sharing, and it’s probably one of the more patient-oriented of the functions within the organisation. Because of our expertise, customer proximity and evidence focus, we’ve been pulled in all sorts of directions both externally and internally and there are lots of possibilities of where we can apply ourselves. The question is, what is the net impact of all of this? Are we just very busy or are we making a difference?”

This broadening of responsibilities brings a requirement for new capabilities, which will be largely anchored in interpreting and delivering patient insights. “We need to be able to effectively support the more empowered patients, who are increasingly making healthcare decisions based on quality of life impact, and also financial considerations. We need to be able to efficiently interact with the patients either directly or through the stakeholders involved in patient care. Development of these competencies and capabilities will drive the major change in how MA is operating, the type of talent we attract, the types of data we analyse and the decisions we make.”

This strengthening drive towards ‘patient-centricity’ means Medical Affairs finds itself at the heart of pharma’s new business model.
“MA by its nature is largely comprised of healthcare professionals who have been trained to take care of patients. So the question is, can we in MA translate those patient-centric skills that we have acquired through our medical training and experience and apply that mindset and insight to our respective organisations? If we are successful in doing that, we will, in turn, shape organisational strategy and operational activities.”

Time to step up to the plate

The call for Medical Affairs to come together as a profession to tackle issues en masse is a strong one. “Individually in our companies, within our leadership, we’re trying to keep up with all the changes that are occurring externally; I think we can do this far better collectively than individually as companies,” says Shepard.

There is huge capacity for shared learning and experience. “I think that the issues are the same, no matter if you’re in a small company, a big company, a biotech or a bona fide pharmaceutical company. Wherever you sit in the world, you face the same type of challenges. The products might be different and the regulatory environment in which you’re aiming to launch could be significantly different but, for example, the framework that governs your interaction with healthcare professionals and thought leaders is the same framework. There is a way that you interact with them and that is guided by the fact that you come from a medical profession and the interactions would always be, for example, scientific, medical and clinical, relevant to patient care,” explains Ornah Levine-Dolberg,
EMEA President.

And that is not unique to any region. “That comes from the profession and that really typifies what we do as medical professionals inside a company. I often tell my team that medical affairs is best positioned to represent the voice of the patient inside the company. Several functions have an understanding and can gain insight, but really the only true representative of the patient’s voice inside a company is medical affairs,” explains Levine-Dolberg.

Elevating the voice of medical affairs is important but it doesn’t amount to just making medical affairs stronger. “We shouldn’t form our own voice in a vacuum without the contributions of commercial and R&D and the patient or market access. They should be helping us to say how we can become better partners. That’s in our vision at MAPS and that’s part of what we want to be about. It’s not just about making medical affairs stronger. We want to be a better partner with R&D and commercial and that’s the way we form our voice,” says Levine-Dolberg.

For more information on MAPS’ 2018 EMEA Annual meeting, visit

Article by
Deirdre Coleman

is a healthcare journalist

25th May 2018

From: Healthcare



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