The Medical Science Liaison (MSL) is a specialized role within the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, medical device, and related health-care fields. They concentrate on a specific therapeutic area or disease state (e.g., oncology, cardiology, gastroenterology, infectious diseases, rheumatology). MSLs establish and maintain relationships with leading physicians, researchers, and clinicians, referred to as key opinion leaders (KOLs) at academic institutions, hospitals, pharma companies, and others. They help ensure that products are used effectively, serve as scientific resources and experts, advise on upcoming advances in treatments, and provide input about relevant scientific and clinical data.
It is important to note that MSLs are not in a sales or commercial role, although they frequently liaise with those on marketing teams to ensure consistent and accurate messaging. They must keep abreast of the latest research and new developments in their area of expertise. Because they consult with many different groups of professionals as part of their job, MSLs must be expert communicators who can tailor their message for a given audience while presenting complex material in a clear and consistent manner. They must have a clear understanding of the clinical research process, including product development, clinical trials, and approval.
MSLs may have different job titles depending on the company, including Medical Liaisons, Medical Managers, Regional Scientific Managers, Clinical Liaisons, and Scientific Affairs Managers among others. Some typical tasks that an MSL may undertake include:
- Responding to requests for information
- Providing training to sales and marketing teams
- Analyzing clinical trends and practices
- Hosting advisory boards
- Consulting with product developers and medical professionals
- Monitoring the scientific literature for new developments
No matter what their specialty, MSLs frequently interact with leaders in their area of expertise. As a field representative for their company, they are vital to its success by establishing relationships, encouraging collaboration, and facilitating dialogue.
Due to the nature of the work, extensive travel is common for a Medical Science Liaison (60-80%). They may be responsible for a geographic area or region. They are usually employed by pharmaceutical, biotechnology, medical device, and managed care companies. Due to the quantity of travel required to liaise and consult with other professionals, they may or may not be based at a company’s physical office. They frequently spend time in meetings where they need to deliver complex information in a clear and concise manner. They must have excellent organizational, analytical, interpersonal, and communication skills. Most MSL positions are full time. Since they need to keep up to date on their area of expertise, attendance at professional conferences is common.
MSLs have advanced scientific training and academic credentials that typically include a doctorate or comparable terminal degree (e.g., PhD, PharmD, MD) in the life sciences. Some also enter the field with a background in nursing that includes expertise in a particular therapeutic area. Those going into the field need a strong scientific background complemented by excellent communication, listening skills, and emotional intelligence. Many MSLs develop expertise in a particular therapeutic area by conducting bench research as part of a PhD, or working on the clinical side as a medical professional. Common undergraduate degrees include biochemistry, biological sciences, chemistry, pharmacy, pharmacology, medicine, and engineering.