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Building an MSL team from the ground up (I’ve had experience in helping to build teams at start ups before, but in the last 3 years have built a team from the ground up at a well-established pharmaceutical company that had never had an MSL team-  a different type of challenge!)


What did you find most challenging or the biggest challenges in building an MSL team from the ground up?

The biggest challenge, before I even hired the MSLs, was to learn what previous experience internal colleagues had with MSLs (if any) and what expectations existed regarding the role of the MSL. Educating internal partners about the role of the MSL and level-setting expectations (as well as development of compliance guidelines and SOPs, etc,) was the focus of my work for the first 5-6 months.

What training programs are needed to ensure your team will be successful?

There are the usual necessary training activities with any MSL group such as disease state and product-specific education/training. Development of a new MSL group requires some additional training related to corporate culture, and the interaction of the MSLs with our internal colleagues. In addition, guidelines and policies regarding interactions with KOLs need to be clearly communicated.

What are the advantages of building a team, as opposed to making new hires?

Building a new team allows one to create the culture for the MSL group from the very start. We were able to create a non-competitive culture of trust, collaboration and a focus on common goals by being very clear in the interviewing process about the environment we intended to create. I hired field managers who shared my vision for the team, and together we hired MSLs with that vision in mind. Having taken over management of an existing team in the past, I realize that is an opportunity you don’t always have.

What can MSL managers do to support new MSLs?

Whether hiring a new MSL for an existing team or building an entirely new team, it is important to hire carefully, first of all. After that, I think it is important to convey to the new person that you have confidence in their ability to do the job, to make your expectations for training and execution in the field clear, and establish a line of communication so that the MSL feels that they can call with questions or clarification. I think it is also important to provide a mentor to the new MSL from the existing team. Beyond that, I try my best to provide what they need and get out of their way.

Why is it important to communicate KOL insights in a timely fashion?

Good MSLs are uncovering and hearing KOL insights constantly in the field. A single 1-hour discussion with a KOL can uncover real-world insights on product development paths and timing, on clinical trial conduct and protocol development and product marketing ideas as well as competitive intelligence. If those insights are communicated in a timely fashion, they can be used by our internal colleagues in clinical development, marketing etc. to make informed decisions. Too often KOL insights get left in the field, while internal colleagues are making decisions based on incomplete or inaccurate information. That is a shame, in my opinion.

What procedures and practices can you implement to ensure insights are delivered?

Over the years I have worked with MSLs and field managers to develop methods of getting KOL insights to internal colleagues quickly and accurately. The methods are not perfect, but they get the job done. We use two different methods: one for KOL field insights and one for communications with our clinical trial sites. Both involve the use of shared documents software, such as Sharepoint. Field KOL insights are logged on a shared document continuously and compiled and sent to internal colleagues monthly. Occasionally insights are particularly time-sensitive and are communicated immediately. For insights from our clinical trial sites, we have developed a continuous feedback loop between the MSL, the company’s Clinical Project Manager and the Clinical Research Organizations Project Manager. Insights gained from the clinical trial sites are logged on a shared document and are shared continuously with the project managers. Weekly calls involving a representative from the MSL team with the project managers insures proper follow-up and issue resolution with the study sites.

How can you best communicate KOL insights to stakeholders from non-scientific backgrounds?

As we’ve all heard, one of the most important aspects to include when communicating anything is the “So what?”. Whether communicating insights to scientific or non-scientific colleagues, it is important to make clear why this insight is important, if it is not intuitive. What impact might this have on our development program? How does might this impact our marketing plan now and in the future? We also group our KOL insights into topic areas that may be of interest to various internal stakeholders, to save them time and allow them to focus on items of most interest or importance to them.

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