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On The Medical Science Liaison Society’s 12th MSL Insights Weekly Show, the MSL Society CEO Samuel Dyer, Ellen Shannon, Head of US Medical Affairs at Valneva and, Rob Consalvo, Director of Strategic Commercial Engagement at H1 led an insightful discussion on the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on product launch plans.

The panel shared their thoughts and experiences on how medical affairs teams can, and indeed have, adapt to ensure a successful product launch during the pandemic. The entire show can be heard here and the key takeaways from the show are summarized below.

And if you appreciate my summary, do let me know. Enjoy!


There is an opportunity for MSLs to add value to a greater number of KOLs

  • While the majority of MSLs or MSL managers stated that the number of MSL-KOL interactions during the COVID-19 pandemic should remain the same or decrease, the panel explored the possibility that the number of interactions could potentially increase.
  • The reduction in the amount of time that was previously spent traveling to and from KOL sites could be reallocated toward broadening MSLs’ reach and bringing value to a greater number of KOLs.
  • Where there is potential for broader interactions that bring value, digital technologies – asynchronous exchanges, webinars, and virtual meetings, to name a few – can be leveraged to reach a wider number of KOLs.
  • At the same time, the challenges of working from home in our new reality, possibly with added responsibilities like caring for children, schooling, or being sick, need to be acknowledged and addressed at the individual and team level.


Figure 1. Responses to a survey on the status of the number of KOL relationships that MSLs and MSL managers believe should be maintained by MSLs during the COVID-19 pandemic. A survey conducted by the Medical Science Liaison Society. The question was based on previous data indicating that the median number of KOL relationships maintained by MSLs is 40. N = 200 MSLs + MSL Managers.


Changes to launch plans

  • Launch plans, like most other activities, have suffered delays during COVID-19. Those initial delays, if left unmitigated, will cause a domino effect to all subsequent activities.
  • Where organizations had planned on hiring additional FTEs to support launch activities, hiring freezes meant they had to do more with less.


Adjustment made to mitigate launch plan delays

Medical affairs teams got creative and found ways to make up for lost time by:

  • Running activities concurrently rather than sequentially as previously planned;
  • Redeploying commercial colleagues, whose activities ground to a halt because they were unable to meet with customers, to help execute certain launch plan activities;
  • Training and reassigning cross-functional colleagues to help medical affairs teams;
  • MSLs taking on roles that they otherwise would not have been involved in; and
  • Consultants being brought in to help supplement and fill remaining gaps.


MSLs have taken on new roles and enhanced their skill sets

As a result of the changes to launch plans, MSLs have had opportunities to take on new roles and learn new skills. In some cases, MSLs are now involved in:

  • Planning, rather than executing, advisory board;
  • Developing resources that they previously did not work on; and
  • Reviewing literature that they would not have accessed in the past.


Despite the obvious challenges, some success stories have emerged

  • Increased global interactions with affiliates;
  • Increased communication and better engagement of cross-functional colleagues;
  • Increased visibility of the value of medical affairs;
  • Increased energy and productivity from team members who were reassigned or given new opportunities; and finally,
  • An opportunity to re-examine the old way of doing things and finding new ways to improve.



All information is summarized from the Medical Science Liaison Society’s MSL Insights Weekly Show on the topic of “Navigating the Impact of COVID-19 to Ensure a Successful Product Launch,” which aired on August 7, 2020.



Darina Frieder, B.Sc., Ph.D.Founder and Writer at Science Nerd for Hire


Darina Frieder is an experienced Medical Affairs professional and is currently a Medical Science Liaison at UCB Pharma. She also runs her own medical writing business, Science Nerd for Hire. She lives in Toronto, Canada with her husband, 2 kids, and 1 temperamental cat. She is passionate about many things, a few of which are gardening, creating delicious meals for family and friends, and reading as many books as she can.