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From Vision to Action: Medical Affairs’ Time to Lead is Now – Key Themes and Takeaways From the 2022 Medical Affairs Professional Society (MAPS) Global Annual Meeting

Nucleus Global’s Luis Perez shares his thoughts on this year’s meeting

In March 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I canceled a trip to Miami on the very morning I was set to depart to attend the 2020 Medical Affairs Professional Society (MAPS) Global Annual Meeting. Fast forward to March 2022, and I found myself asking, “Are we really, finally starting to travel for work again?” I was thrilled to be able to attend the 2022 MAPS meeting from March 20-23 in New Orleans, Louisiana; MAPS organizers hosted a terrific conference. For those unfamiliar with the meeting, key statistics from the 2022 prospectus included 58 unique sessions, 120+ expert speakers, 12 hours of allocated networking time, and 780+ attendees, 500+ of whom have roles in Medical Affairs within top pharmaceutical and biotech companies. Plus, they organized a marching band–led parade down Bourbon Street – how cool is that?!

This year’s theme, From Vision to Action: Medical Affairs’ Time to Lead is Now, should resonate with all of us working in this space. The meeting sessions provided timely and actionable insights for Medical Affairs professionals to help guide their activities as we emerge from the global pandemic and return to in-person and hybrid engagements.

The general program agenda provided a wealth of sessions to choose from, and this recap will focus on my personal takeaways from sessions I attended and conversations I had.

Programming note: There was a separate Field Medical Program that took place 1 day prior to the start of the general meeting that I have not covered in this summary.

Topics at a Glance

It was impossible to attend all the sessions at the MAPS Global meeting; therefore, I have compiled the list below showcasing the breadth of information and wide-ranging topics offered (the number of distinct sessions per topic is indicated in parentheses). Additional subtopics within these broad categories included gender equity, advisory boards, medical devices, leadership training, remote interactions, rare diseases, and lifecycle management.

Cell & Gene Therapy (2)

Medical Affairs Role-Specific Guidance (12)

Digital Innovation (3)

Strategic Planning & Execution (6)

Diversity & Inclusion

Omnichannel Communication Strategy (4)

Data Generation & Insight Gathering (8)

Patient Engagement (4)

Artificial Intelligence (3)

COVID-19 & Post-Pandemic Communications (6)

Key Themes and Takeaways

No More Promises; Time for Action

During the Opening Remarks & Welcome portion, Tamas Koncz, MD, PhD, Chief Medical Officer, Immunology & Inflammation at Pfizer, communicated a clear call to action: healthcare providers (HCPs) want quick answers to their medical inquiries, delivered by medical experts and based on trusted science. The time is now for Medical Affairs to lead the way.

Historically, commercial brand teams have carried the torch of innovation, leadership, and focused messaging to support asset strategy. A key session to support this call to action was titled Medical Affairs: From Supporting Actor to Lead Role – Are YOU Ready to Proactively Shape Asset Strategy? presented by Denise Chambley and Suzanna Lawrence (Amplity Health), Danie du Plessis (Kyowa Kirin), Jessica Nora (BioMarin Pharmaceutical), and Marco Taglietti (SCYNEXIS). An audience poll during this presentation showed that 61% of participants felt that their Medical Affairs team has influence over asset strategy. For medical teams to move the leadership needle, they need to clearly demonstrate their “value add,” partner with the right stakeholders in order to “get a seat at the table,” and strive to identify ways of becoming agents of change.

Data Generation & Insight Gathering

During the Closing Keynote address, Amy Abernethy, President, Clinical Research Platforms at Verily Life Sciences, made a pointed statement about the importance of data: “…[O]ne patient’s health data can be leveraged and paid forward to benefit future patients.” This is such a simple concept, but one that I think is incredibly powerful. Therefore, if data are king, then the topic of real-world data/real-world evidence (RWD/RWE) provides the perfect context to support that assertion.

RWD/RWE was covered in the symposium titled Real-World Data: Driving Innovation and Improved Outcomes in Rare Diseases, presented by Laura Clark and Canter Martin (Healthcare Consultancy Group), Neeraj Iyer (Novo Nordisk), and Aaron Kamauu (Ikaika Health). Opportunities to utilize RWD/RWE were highlighted; one noteworthy example touched on the challenges faced with delayed diagnosis in Duchenne muscular dystrophy due to symptoms being attributed to developmental delays as well as geographic barriers based on treatment centers that are clustered across specific regions.

Another crucial point shared is that more than 90% of rare diseases have no approved treatment and finding patients is a challenge due to small numbers. This is important because payers need to balance reduction in healthcare costs vs patient needs, and cost benefit on a large scale is difficult to showcase with small patient numbers.

A key takeaway from this session is the notion that patients (and their caregivers) are experts about their conditions and the medical community needs to listen to them. HCP notes and patient registries are data sources that would facilitate this, but there is scrutiny of registries by the FDA, which poses a challenge. Permissions and governance need to be embedded into collection of these data sets, and solutions are needed that can combine multiple sources into one longitudinal data thread, systematically review these data, and provide clean data outputs to inform treatment strategies.

Cue…artificial intelligence (AI).

Artificial Intelligence: It’s Happening, and We Need to be Ready

What is AI and how can it apply to healthcare? This was the premise of the workshop titled AI for Medical Insights: Making the Leap from Vision to Reality, presented by Chris Denove (Amgen), Luca Dezzani (Johnson & Johnson), Jen Prokes (Gilead Sciences), and Pranava Goudan and Sarah Jarvis (ZS Associates). AI was described as using emerging technologies and platforms, such as natural language processing, blockchain, and the metaverse, to synthesize data sources and insights. As it applies to Medical Affairs, I found it interesting that the presenters noted an emerging role for a Global Medical Data Analytics Director within pharmaceutical companies. There is a clear need to have stakeholders within the industry who can bridge the gaps between data, business applications, strategy, and medical information exchange.

One potential utility of AI is sifting through clinical trial databases to ensure that development teams do not duplicate clinical trials. Another noted example is using AI to organize and make sense of call center transcripts/data and provide outputs that can be used to generate actionable insights. However, while AI helps to prevent problems and facilitates efficient adjustments, it is difficult to allocate it a value for return-on-investment purposes.

How does one start to implement AI into medical activities? The advice given was to start small with one project, and be prepared to fail fast, then move on to the next project. I loved the comment, “…[Y]ou can’t just sprinkle AI on it and expect the magic.” Medical Affairs teams need to be prepared to make the investments of time and planning and have a well-defined targeted end goal. This isn’t sexy work; no one will see the back-end automated processes, but they are critical.

Omnichannel Communication – We Sort of Get It

Omnichannel is a buzz word that I first encountered at Digital Pharma East in the fall of 2018, and I have seen a clear shift away from “multichannel” communication since that time. During one of four sessions on this topic, I asked “What’s the difference between multichannel and omnichannel?” It was a question that needed to be asked, based on the sidebar conversations I overheard.

Here’s the reply:

  • Multichannel: Take part of your narrative, messaging, or scientific story (eg, a unique mechanism of action) and send it out across a myriad of dissemination channels, such as journal articles, white papers, congress presentations, medical booths, websites, and social media. HCPs don’t like this.
  • Omnichannel: Meet your end user wherever they are in their learning journey. Provide the right information, at the right time, in the right format, and in their preferred channel. HCPs like this.

There have been many articles written about HCP preferences regarding how they like to consume and disseminate medical information. At Nucleus Global (shameless plug), our teams have conducted research on this within the publications space, which was presented in an award-winning poster at the International Society for Medical Publication Professionals (ISMPP) annual meeting in 2020 (Ruth A, Subramanian R, Suchy J, et al. Consumption of publication content—mapping the audience journey to inform omnichannel planning in an open world. Poster presented at: Virtual 16th Annual Meeting of ISMPP; June 16-18, 2020. Poster 14), with a follow-up poster to be presented at the 2022 meeting. The key takeaway is that Medical Affairs teams should continue moving in the direction of implementing an omnichannel communication strategy.

Digital Innovation

The pharmaceutical industry has historically lagged behind other business sectors in the adoption of novel technologies and approaches as they relate to medical communications. Several sessions at this meeting covered concepts such as the metaverse, blockchain, and web3 and provided opportunities to collaborate on what the Medical Affairs engagement landscape might look like in the future.

The session titled A Strategic Approach to Revolutionizing Digital Impact for Medical Affairs, presented by Luca Dezzani (Johnson & Johnson), Bora Erdemli (ZS Associates), Stacey Gorski (AstraZeneca), and Shaji Kalathil (Bristol Myers Squibb), featured an engaging Shark Tank–style digital innovation workshop. The presenters noted that 50% of HCPs are GenZ and digitally native, and the challenge was to look ahead 8 years into the future and produce a digitally innovative solution for scientific exchange with HCPs. The judging criteria were impact, novelty, and presentation of the solution.

A few of the ideas put forth included:

  • A mobile phone-enabled, single-touch, real-time clinical trial enrollment platform
  • Mediverse: a blockchain-based solution that could pull HCPs from a variety of preferred engagement channels (ie, WhatsApp, LinkedIn, TikTok) and seamlessly funnel them into one compliant engagement platform
  • Virtual reality metaverse-based experiences to enhance medical procedures (eg, what it’s like to be inside an MRI machine or using virtual reality to transport the patient to an exotic location during a medical procedure)

Patient Centricity is a Cliché

Another popular catch phrase heard everywhere within the pharmaceutical and biotech space is “patient centricity.” The symposium titled How Medical Affairs Can Best Support Internal and External Collaborations in Patient Engagement, presented by Nicholas Brooke (The Synergist), Graeme Johnston (PFMD.org), Sarah Krüg (Health Collaboratory), Laura McKeaveney (McKeaveney Consulting), Nancy Paynter (Gilead Sciences), and Eleanor Perfetto (patient engagement advocate), highlighted a few extremely valuable insights into how Medical Affairs teams should approach patient engagement. It was noted that the FDA now expects the patient voice to be incorporated into trial data, outcomes reports, and regulatory submissions. For ease of communication, I have pulled out key points from my notes below:

  • [I love this statement] “We are moving away from [questioning] what is the risk of including the patient to [questioning] what is the risk of not including the patient”
  • Patient partnership is key – we need to think of patient engagement as the act of doing things with the patient and not to the patient
  • It is critical to be a long-term partner to patient advocates and not just “drop in” when their insights are needed, and then helicopter out
  • Pharmaceutical companies need to collaborate with each other to gain the trust of patient organizations – information from a single pharma company may be met with skepticism

Conclusion

MAPS is a pharma-led group that provides a wealth of guidance documents and information for Medical Affairs professionals. Their 2022 Global Annual Meeting included opportunities for networking with pharma/biotech stakeholders and solution vendors/partners and for fostering discussions about hot topics and trends. The discussions and subsequent actions from this meeting will help progress the exchange of scientific information with HCPs, benefiting patients around the world. The time to act is now – just be sure that patients also have a seat at the table!

Luis Perez, Senior Commercial Director, Nucleus Global

If you would like to learn more about our medical communications capabilities or current employment opportunities within Nucleus Global, please get in touch at luis.perez@nucleusholdings.com

14th April 2022

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