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Reflections on the MAPS EMEA 2022 Annual Meeting

Amanda Henkel, VP Strategy, Nucleus X Consulting (part of Nucleus Global) shares her thoughts on this year’s meeting.

The theme of this year’s Medical Affairs Professional Society (MAPS) EMEA Annual Meeting was ‘From Vision to Action – Medical Affairs’ Time to Lead is Now’; a concept that resonated throughout the event, which over the course of 3 days included inspiring and thought-provoking plenaries, workshops and panel discussions.

I have been a member of MAPS for just over a year now and was thrilled to be given the opportunity to present a hot topics roundtable on ‘How to Successfully Identify and Engage with External Experts in a Rare Disease Setting’, which I had the pleasure of delivering together with Katie Green (Medical Expressions) and Rana Dutta (Travere Therapeutics). I had high expectations for the meeting, but these were exceeded – and it was all the more enjoyable for being the first face-to-face event I’d attended since early 2020!

With collaboration we can drive change

The goal of the MAPS EMEA 2022 meeting was to share best practices across the industry and to ensure that participants take home actionable insights and tools that will fuel the capabilities of their Medical Affairs teams. From my perspective this was very much achieved – the opportunity to meet and learn from those in Medical Affairs functions, as well as other medical communications agencies, was both insightful and inspiring.

We frequently speak of the need to collaborate, to learn from one another and to share ideas so that we can experience growth and develop the best solutions to advance patient care. However, these efforts can be hindered by silos and competition. It was great to see the collaboration and willingness to share best practice at MAPS between both pharma companies and medical communications agencies. True collaboration is something organizations frequently aspire to but often struggle to achieve – so annual meetings held by societies such as MAPS and the International Society for Medical Publication Professionals (ISMPP) provide ideal opportunities to facilitate these goals.

Leadership and innovation were central themes of the MAPS EMEA 2022 meeting. Many of these topics were also addressed at the Global MAPS meeting held in New Orleans in March; Luis Perez, Senior Commercial Director at Nucleus Global, provided a great summary of these (here) which I don’t want to duplicate… so instead I’ll share a few aspects of the MAPS EMEA meeting that resonated with me.

Change requires self-transformation, self-awareness and discovering your self-deceptions

The role of the leader in organizational transformation was highlighted in an excellent keynote presentation by Ben Bryant, Professor of Leadership and Organization at IMD in Lausanne. Many organizations are undergoing change, and Professor Bryant spoke of the complexity associated with this. He stressed that the ‘experience of being lost can be the birthplace of transformation’, but that change is challenging.

Change starts with self-transformation, self-awareness and discovering our own self-deceptions – as well as the understanding that change requires us to let go of things (be it processes, beliefs or our own purpose). Feelings are a normal part of transformation – but for many, change is hard. Professor Bryant highlighted that with change you should expect a range of emotional responses, including resentment and anger. Uncertainty can lead to fear and panic, conflict may occur where there is ambiguity, and feelings of betrayal and disloyalty may also accompany change. As leaders, we need to lean into this tension and act as a container to support the feelings that our teams will experience; however, transformation places huge demands on our own capacity to contain others’ anxiety and emotions, so finding a way to let go is important – be it through talking with a trusted colleague, going for a walk outside or practising meditation.

Cross-functional collaboration and insights generation are essential

It will come as no surprise that the importance of medical insights was covered in multiple sessions. The value that actionable insights can bring is undisputable, but we now face the new challenge of ‘insights inflation’, which occurs when there is a lack of strategic prioritization that creates an overabundance of data points or customer observations. I am sure we have all been on the receiving end of an email with so many observations that it is hard to know which are critical, let alone what we should do with them! Several workshops addressed these challenges – describing best practice for gathering and reporting insights, highlighting the role of the MSL in the process (including the need to ‘close the loop’ to share the impact of their insights) and the role artificial intelligence can play in managing and elevating decision-making.

A cross-functional approach is required for best-practice insights gathering, and these insights should subsequently be integrated into a communications strategy and plan – which was another topic covered by both plenary and workshop sessions. MAPS has developed some excellent white papers on this topic, so I’d recommend reading these as they provide guidance on the steps required to build a communications roadmap, namely: defining the overall medical communications objectives; identifying and understanding your audiences and how they consume content; identifying channels and communication formats to best engage stakeholders; identifying focus areas, detailing tactics and implementing the plan; and finally, defining and measuring success, reviewing, re-evaluating and adjusting as needed.

Medical Affairs is pivotal to driving transformation

Certain quotes embed themselves in your mind, and for me ‘but what if we could’ sums up the MAPS EMEA 2022 meeting. Medical Affairs teams are doing an exemplary job of incorporating the patient perspective, searching for and acting on insights, and driving innovation. However, external regulations and internal policies and processes can act as barriers. These topics were considered during a panel discussion on ‘Innovation and Medical of the Future’, during which Alan McDougall from Astellas gave an example of great leadership and referenced the remarkable 2018 rescue of the Wild Boars football team of 12 boys and their coach, who had become trapped by rising floodwaters in a northern Thailand cave complex. With the team trapped in a chamber located 2.5 km from the cave entrance, with many sections fully underwater, the situation looked hopeless – but working together with the Thai Navy SEALS, an international group of expert cave divers asked ‘but, what if we could...’. The subsequent rescue required expertise from many different contributors working collaboratively, and learning along the way, to develop an innovative and successful rescue plan. Relating this to Medical Affairs, we can see several parallels – collaboration, innovation and a drive towards successful outcomes.

The importance of an infinite, growth mindset was highlighted in a second keynote presentation by Steven Hildemann, EVP, CMO, Head of Global Medical Affairs, Patient Safety and Patient Affairs at Ipsen, who reiterated the key themes of the meeting. The transformation of Medical Affairs is central to the role of biopharma – and its establishment as a third strategic pillar and value driver between R&D and commercial has brought new responsibilities, accountability and ownership. Medical Affairs drives the transfer of knowledge to support continual evolution, gaining insights and driving change. Progress continues apace and we are moving from ‘but what if we could…’ to ‘it’s possible. BioNTech’s Project Lightspeed is a case study in this – setting the highest standard to accelerate the development and commercialization of a COVID-19 vaccine in record time. Science is exploding, advances in data analytics and technology are driving innovation in healthcare – and Medical Affairs is at the centre of this change. Exciting times are ahead – and with the tools MAPS helps to provide, we can look forward to continual progress and collaboration across our industry.

Amanda Henkel, VP Strategy, Nucleus X Consulting

About Nucleus X Consulting and Nucleus Global

Nucleus X Consulting consists of a group of specialist practices, with deep expertise in patient engagement, rare disease, and early-phase medical commercialisation. We partner with our clients to drive successful drug commercialisation, leveraging insights to develop targeted strategies, ensuring patient centricity is embedded throughout the full product lifecycle from conception to market.

Nucleus Global is the largest specialist medical communications company in the world, with 14 fully serviced agencies operating out of 14 office locations and 900+ medical communications specialists worldwide. Nucleus Global’s agencies deliver world-class compliant events, publications, and digital programs, supporting the marketing, medical affairs, and publications teams of the biggest healthcare and medical brands in the world.

31st May 2022



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