As the healthcare industry evolves with novel and innovative therapies, it brings the need for highly specialized conversations with healthcare providers (HCPs) and key opinion leaders (KOLs). While the sales force is still a crucial part of any pharmaceutical company, the demand for Medical Affairs teams continue to rise. How are sales reps and Medical Science Liaisons (MSLs) the same? And how are they different, you may ask?

Ways Pharma sales reps and MSLs are the same:

  1. Truly, the main similarity between both roles is that Pharma reps and MSLs are both field facing teams. They are both an extension of the company – After all, both roles see the same HCPs and KOLs and represent their company. So both MSLs and sales reps should be on their “A” game at all times!

Ways Pharma reps and MSLs are different:

  1. Typically, an MSL holds a doctorate degree, whether it be a PhD, MD, or PharmD. Specific therapeutic areas may be open to nurse practitioners, and other specialized degrees (e.g. an optometrist for a dry eye medication)
  2. Pharmaceutical reps are limited to having on-label proactive discussions with KOLs and are free to promote the marketed product they support. MSLs are non-promotional, reactively having in-depth scientific discussions about marketed products with KOLs. 
  3. While this is completely off the table for Pharmaceutical sales reps, MSLs are able to reactively discuss pipeline products, as well as have off-label discussions under strict compliance guidelines.
  4. While sales reps’ involvement with other projects may be limited, they do work with other commercial teams to help facilitate commercial activities. On the other hand, MSLs are heavily involved in working with their Medical Affairs counterparts to facilitate medical activities such as medical advisory boards (in some instances, even MSL led Ad-boards!), have roundtable discussions, liaise about clinical trial communications and updates, collect and disseminate competitive intelligence, and help shape the medical objectives and strategies

How can an MSL and Sales rep work together, compliantly?

It is vital that MSLs and Sales Rep work together, COMPLIANTLY. It is important to understand that while the two should work together, neither should try and steer the other’s meeting. Depending on the company, MSLs and Sales Reps should collaborate on barriers to access to restricted sites, KOLs, and institutions in their territories. In addition, they may also help facilitate introductions, if needed, during the first five minutes of the meeting. Typically, the meeting’s owner would be the one to stay. Lastly, they should discuss any upcoming major events to ensure the company has a united front. Always check the guidance and policies set forth by your pharmaceutical companies, as they may slightly differ.