Thoughts on Global Medical Affairs
On this blog we have discussed the challenges of communicating medical affairs value a number of different times. Specifically, we have addressed the topic here (Topic 6), we have discussed MA value at launch here (Topic 3), and addressed the use of NPS measures in communicating value here (Topic 43).
On subject that we have not addressed is the importance of MA Insights in communicating value to internal stakeholders.
MA has always shared its insights with its internal stakeholders, but in the past the process has been fairly unstructured in the form of MA team members who are working with other functions on specific projects sharing their knowledge. For example, when MA field teams are responsible for helping clinical development identify and initiate sites, they may bring back to the clinical team leadership feedback about the protocol that they learned during their discussions with PIs. Or MA members of cross-functional launch teams may share insights that they gathered doing disease state education that may help commercial colleagues better understand and craft commercial scientific messages.
In the last year or so I have worked with a number of clients that are looking to take these “insight value moments” and make them more frequent by structuring the process for gathering and sharing insights.
Before I share my thoughts on how to best leverage MA insights to drive organizational value, some standard caveats:
Three Elements of Successful Insight Capture and Communication
With that said, I want to share some of the keys to gathering and communicating valuable insights from MA to internal stakeholders. Three elements are required to successfully provide value through insights:
I will review each element in more detail below.
Awareness of Current Environment and Important Topics
MA personnel that interact with HCPs and others in the field are constantly learning new information. However, everything that they learn is not worth their time to document nor the time of internal stakeholders to review. As the saying goes, if you do not know what you are looking for, you will never find it.
So how do we make MA personnel that interact with others in the field aware of what are potentially valuable insights for their internal stakeholders? We need to educate them on the internal stakeholders’ situation.
Primary internal stakeholders for MA insights are:
Each internal stakeholder group has different areas of interest. In order to identify that MA has learned something useful to these groups we need to understand their context – we need to know what is important to them.
Many MA staff already have a good understanding of the priorities and activities of the clinical development function because they have to discuss the organization’s pipeline and development efforts with HCPs.
Types of Insights Sought by Clinical Development:
In order to provide this type of insights, the MA staff needs to understand the context of the current clinical development environment. They need to understand the following:
Elements of Clinical Development Context:
MA organizations have a firewall with commercial for a reason. MA is non-promotional and therefore cannot be seen taking orders from or executing work on behalf of the commercial organization. However, non-promotional does not have to mean commercially uniformed. As long as the communication is one-way, MA sharing insights it learns to commercial, than MA can provide value to commercial without becoming a promotional organization.
Types of Insights Sought by Commercial:
In order to provide this type of insights, the MA staff needs to understand the context of the current commercial environment. They need to understand the following:
Elements of Commercial Context:
MA organizations have different relationships with managed market organizations based on the company. Some MA groups are tightly integrated with managed markets, with MA staff specialized to support management markets. Other organizations have limited contacts. Regardless of the structure, MA can provide valuable insights to managed markets.
Types of Insights Sought by Managed Markets:
In order to provide this type of insights, the MA staff needs to understand the context of the current managed market environment. They need to understand the following:
Elements of Managed Market Context:
Summary of Awareness
With an understanding of the clinical development, commercial and managed markets context, MA personnel can be aware of any insights they may encounter during their dealings with HCPs and be able to highlight those that have the greatest potential for impact on the organization.
As one of my clients put it, we need to shift MA personnel from Medical People to Medical Business People, adding to their knowledge base an awareness of the entire organization’s business.
Method for Capturing Insights
MA insights do not come on a schedule. They can occur whenever MA interacts with an HCP. For that reason, there needs to be an easy, efficient method for capturing insights as they occur. Many organizations leverage their customer relationship management (CRM) systems. Systems like Veeva can be tailored to capture the insights and, with simple drop down lists, at the time of entry they can be coded for internal stakeholder group or groups that may be most interested in the insight.
Leveraging the CRM system has another advantage – visibility. While insights do not come on a set schedule, MA leadership needs to encourage everyone with HCPs interactions to capture insights. The CRM can be used to track who has entered insights in the last period. While I strongly discourage any type of “minimum number of insights” metric, managers should still track who is entering insights and work with any MA team member that interacts with HCPs and fails to capture insights over a significant period of time.
Approach for Communicating Valuable Insights
If MA wants to maximize the impact of its insights, it must communicate them to the internal stakeholders in such a manner that the insights are actionable. Simply providing internal stakeholders with a laundry list of a hundred bullet points of insights, mixing different topics and hoping that they can sort it out to find the needle in the haystack.
Unfortunately this requires the application of judgment, which takes time and attention. However, in return for this effort the MA organization can produce a consistently useful and effective report of competitive intelligence on an ongoing basis. This approach requires the following steps:
Once a summary of the key trends and highlighted insights are developed, the MA reviewer can meet on a periodic basis with a representative of the stakeholder to review the insights and provide context. These insight review sessions can be a very powerful example of how MA drives value into the entire organization.
MA is a significant organization investment. Any opportunity for MA to share its value with its key stakeholders helps it to solidify the important role that MA plays in organization success. Providing actionable insights to the organization is a key way that MA can share its value.
What is your experience with Insight identification, capture and communication? Leave a comment.
In brief, Amarin has an FDA-approved indication to market its fish oil supplement as a treatment for very high triglycerides. It conducted a study that showed it lowered the triglycerides in moderately high patients but the FDA declined to approve the label extension because Amarin failed to prove a link to prevention of coronary artery disease. Amarin then informed the FDA that it intended to communicate the triglyceride lowering data to the market and the FDA informed them that it would consider any such communication off-label promotion. Amarin then sued the FDA for unfair restraint. Amarin was granted an injunction against the FDA, which appealed the decision.
In the latest development, the FDA has settled with Amarin, closing down the appeal before a ruling could be made to set clear precedence. In the settlement, which can read about here, the FDA agreed that Amarin could inform doctors of the studies supporting the fact that its product lowered triglycerides in a range of patients as long as the data presented was truthful. It also set up an “optional” provision in which Amarin can meet bi-annually with the FDA to review the material that they wish to present to ensure that the FDA will find that information truthful and any disagreements from these discussions would be sent to a court to make the final decision.
The FDA’s perceived fear of a precedence setting ruling is not going to go unnoticed. Already another pharma company, Pacira, is suing the FDA under similar circumstances, which you can read about here.
If this case is also settled, expect to see the floodgates open.
It is more than past due time for the FDA to provide clear guidance to industry on the use of truthful, non-misleading communication of scientifically valid data that is not supported by the label. When that guidance is finally offered, it will be a game changer for MA. We believe that most organizations will realize that the safest way to communicate such scientific data will be through the use of peer-to-peer communication driven by medical science liaison-type roles and this will lead to a major expansion of many MSL groups.
We will continue to follow this story. We would love to know what you think. Leave a comment.
A couple of my clients have discussed the use of the Net Promoter Score lately so I thought I would address it in my blog.
The concept of the Net Promoter Score was introduced in a Harvard Business Review article in 2003 by Fred Reichheld of Bain & Company. The net promoter score is measured by asking a single question: “How likely are you to recommend the company/product/service to a friend or colleague?” and is usually measured on a 0 to 10 basis. Scores of 9 and 10 are called Promoters, scores of 0 to 6 are Detractors and scores of 7 and 8 are called Passives. The Net Promoter Score is calculated by subtracting the percentage of customers that are Detractors from the percentage of customers that are Promoters.
People like the net promoter score because it is a simple measure of loyalty and when it is paired with an open ended question that asks why the particular score was given, it provides insight into what is important to the customer.
So, does the Net Promoter Score (NPS) provide value to MA? My research has not been able to find a single academic or metric-driven study on the use of NPS in MA specifically related to MSL activity. Common sense says this approach should be helpful but for now anyone using this approach is in experimental mode.
In MA the NPS question is often modified to be:
PRO’s of Using NPS in MA:
CONs of Using NPS in MA:
Given the inherent challenge, it is my opinion that the NPS is still a worthwhile measure, but it needs to be gathered as a part of a broader market research effort to give it the context that can help tease apart the reason for the scores.
The most effective NPS is gathered as soon as possible after the last interaction. In the case of MSLs, a system should be established to seek this guidance directly after a contact has been noted in the company’s contact management system. And, like all market research with HCPs, participation is highly impacted by compensation, so sufficient compensation must be offered to ensure enough participation to make the measure meaningful.
What is your experience with NPS? How do you frame the question? Share your experiences by clicking here.
One of my readers asked me an interesting question:
“Are there examples of successful MSL roles that are primarily office-based (minimal travel)?”
Of course I could immediately think of some one-off type of examples like MSLs that focus on supporting other internal teams, like MSLs focused on training, or MSLs focused on providing a clinical development function technical leadership support. But, the simple answer is that I don’t know of any MSL groups that are primarily office-based. If you have experience with this, please leave a comment because my reader would really appreciate it.
Having failed to find a practical example, I nevertheless asked myself if I could imagine such a group existing in the future as a thought experiment. If we take as a given that the role of the MSL is to:
1. Establish relationships with stakeholders (usually thought leaders / key opinion leaders) in order to:
a. Provide the stakeholders with information and education on the disease state
b. Answer unprompted off-label questions about products / pipeline
c. Gather insights from stakeholders to share with the organization
2. Represent their organization in scientific settings like conferences
3. Facilitate efforts to work effectively with the research community
4. Support other scientific needs of the organization externally, like payers
I realize your mileage may vary on this definition, but if we accept it, than is there a future where most of that can be done from a desk?
I think it comes down to how acceptable the use of remote communications like FaceTime or Skype becomes. Today’s reality is that this is rarely done but I believe that this will grow much more common as this type of communication begins to be embedded in our daily interactions. I can imagine a future in 10 years or less where stakeholders express a preference for this type of communication – it is clearly more efficient for a stakeholder to sit at her or his desk and quickly interact with a number of different people than have to do the physical meet and greet with its inevitable open/closing loss of time. However, I think that this change will happen so gradually that we will come to realize that happened only by looking back on the differences.
And even in such a situation, there will still have to be travel for initial introductions which are much more impactful face to face and to conferences/meetings that have not gone virtual.
I just think the MSL job is too fundamentally about human contact to ever be exclusively office-based.
What do you think? Let me know by leaving a comment below.
In a court case that may have huge implications for pharma, a federal district judge in Manhattan ruled that the FDA cannot prevent a company from conducting off-label promotion if the promotion is truthful and scientifically accurate.
This ruling stems from the Amarin case that we discussed HERE. In that case, Amarin argued that the precedent set by the Caronia case (which we discussed HERE) allowed them to promote off-label if the information shared was truthful and not misleading. The FDA argued that the Caronia ruling was specific to those circumstances only and did not apply to Amarin. Judge Engelmayer wrote in today’s ruling that “…A fair reading of that decision refutes the F.D.A.’s view that the Second Circuit’s ruling was limited to the facts of Caronia’s particular case.”
While this only currently applies to the circuit in question, it is a clear precedent that will need to be addressed if the FDA intends to retain its current regulatory approach to off-label promotion. The FDA has not stated whether it intends to appeal but it did not appeal the Caronia ruling, a decision some pundits felt was made to avoid having a broader precedent set for allowing truthful off-label promotion.
This is an ongoing story but it could have some major implications for pharma and medical affairs. Stay tuned to this space for more developments as they occur.
Any comments or thoughts on today’s news? Click here to share them.
Have you had the opportunity to follow the Amarin lawsuit against the FDA? If not, a quick recap:
Amarin is literally a fish-oil salesman – they have fish-oil pills that are already FDA approved for the treatment of very high levels of triglycerides. They had conducted clinical trials to expand their label to patients with lower levels of high triglycerides. The FDA rejected their application. Amarin decided it wanted to share the results of those studies anyway since they were positive and sued the FDA for the right to share its data on off-label use.
The interesting part comes from the FDA response letter. Putting aside their primary concern that Amarin failed to work with them before suing them, the letter signed by Janet Woodcock went on to layout the condition in which Amarin (or for that matter any pharam company) can share off-label data.
First, the letter reiterated what we already know and have discussed: the reprint exemption to off label communication – distribute reprints from peer-reviewed journals, avoid some simple issues like highlighting only the “good” passages, and you are in the clear.
But then the letter goes on to say that Amarin can also write up and distribute its own summary of the results of their trial if the write up:
They go on to add that to protect against being misleading the company should:
While that is still a lot of hurdles, that is a long way from reprints only. And while these are NOT an official policy now, I think this is telegraphing what we should expect to see in the upcoming policies.
I particularly like the final bullet point which makes it clear that these topics need to be discussed by roles that sound very much like MSLs.
To speculate, if the FDA were to allow establish this as the policy, it would surely free up MA to proactively share both off label and label supportive information. That would be a big improvement for some MA organizations that deny all proactive sharing of off-label information.
You can find the letter HERE. The juicy bits begin on page 8.
What do you think? Click here to leave a comment.
Normal disclaimer: I am not a lawyer just a lay observer.
I was at the 3rd Annual World Congress Summit on the Evolving Role of Medical Affairs. As in the last two years, one of the highlights is the presentation by a representative of the OIG and US States Attorney on Off-Label Promotion.
Usually this is an opportunity for them to remind us that pharma is not allowed to promote off label, trot out examples of people who were prosecuted for off-label promotions (which are almost exclusively Sales and Marketing examples, not MA examples) and then encourage us to snitch on our organizations if we think we see this behavior.
But this year was different. This year we were all introduced to an important new term – Off-label Plus. What does Off-label Plus mean? It’s how they refer to cases that they are willing to prosecute. In light of the Caronia ruling (an overview of which you can find here, with subsequent commentary here and here), they are no longer willing to base cases on simply promoting off label (assuming the test laid out in Caronia that the off-label information presented is from a credible, unbiased source, like a “real” journal, and the presentation is not misleading). Instead, they are only willing to go after cases where there is Off-Label Plus something else, like Kickbacks or Fraud of some type.
In my opinion this is huge for medical affairs – most medical affairs organizations are unwilling to proactively share even an article published in the NEJM if it is off-label out of fear of being accused of promoting off-label. Instead we wait to be asked, since responding to a question is not promotion. I think the fear of promotion is now unjustified.
The simple reality is that even before Caronia no medical affairs employee has ever been prosecuted for simply providing accurate, non-misleading off-label information. Caronia was a sales guy, not medical affairs. The only example that the prosecutor could cite of an MA employee being prosecuted was a device company where the medical affairs lead used speaking fees as a kick backs. Now that Caronia is out there, I think the risk is even lower.
Just like our treatments, all of medical affairs is a risk / benefit. If we wanted zero risk, we would not have medical affairs or sales or marketing for that matter. Instead we reduce our risks through the use of strong processes and a compliance function to ensure those processes remain in place. It is my assertion that providing credible, non-misleading peer-reviewed published off-label data pro-actively is no longer a major risk, assuming there are procedures in place to avoid all the other “Plus” activities.
I don’t expect this to change overnight, but some organizations are going to start operating this way and when the sky does not fall, all medical affairs organizations will be operating this way – my guess is within 5 years. And this is all for the best – its good for HCPs because they will have the latest information, its good for patients because their HCPs will be well informed and its good for medical affairs because it allows us to do our jobs even better than today.
What do you think? Leave a comment by clicking here.
As evidence, did you see this article in the NEJM? It’s a research analysis in which they pulled the entire ClinicalTrials.gov database and analyzed it to determine who has been publishing summarized clinical trials results as required by FDAAA from 2007. This analysis was done by cardiologists at Duke, and what got the headlines was that only 38% of completed studies had their data posted as required by the law.
However, dig a little deeper and with more of our focus and you can learn some interesting things about the biopharma industry. Of all the 13,300 (all numbers rough for discussion purposes) completed clinical trials analyzed, 66% were industry sponsored or roughly 8700 trials. Only 5100 of the 13,300 completed clinical trials reported any results, and of 3600 of those 5100 reporting trials, or 71%, were industry trials. So, in a world of terrible compliance, industry was punching above its weight. That still leaves some 5100 industry trials with not results posted despite the law.
BUT, you say, isn’t there some exception for holding back results until after FDA approval/rejection. Yes, a company can file a certificate which allows it to delay posting results in that circumstances. Of the 5100 completed industry trials missing data only 2000 certificates were filed – leaving 3100 or 36% of all industry trials unreported or uncertified per the law.
This is where big data and company reputation risk raises its ugly head. There are big data sources already out there that read all the data from ClinicalTrials.gov. With today’s big data tools it is a straight forward exercise to determine which industry company sponsored which trial and whether it reported/certified per the law. They will also know which products have failed to report/certify if the products are approved. It is not long from now that some reporter will put this together and produce a list of the “best and worst biopharma companies for publishing results” – some uncharitable media outlets (and which ones are charitable to biopharma) may even imply sinister intent at “denying their legal obligation to share this data – what are they hiding.”
Implications for Medical Affairs and Clinical Development
There is a unique opportunity to head this potential distraction off at the pass. We don’t want our MA field team’s spending time justifying why the company is not posting data.
While maintaining ClinicalTrials.gov is generally the responsibility of the CD in most organizations, MA has a strong vested interest to ensuring that the company is bullet proof in this area. MA and CD need to collaborate to make sure that data is posted or the certificates are filed. A process audit to confirm that the processes are in place and are working, as well as verifying that the company does not have any missing posting or filings, is a small bit of work that can save a huge amount of distraction for the entire organization in the future.
What has been your experience in this area? Leave a comment
A couple of years ago I wrote a post (check it out here) on the emergence of big data for Medical Affairs. Given the rapid evolution of big data, two years is a long time ago so it’s worth revisiting this topic.
Let’s recap what we mean by “big data.” It is a broad concept, but for our discussion today we will be using big data to refer to the new capability to pull together huge quantities of data that were not directly generated for the purpose they are now being applied. Biopharma has excelled at generating proprietary data sets for a specific purpose, but big data take advantage of non-proprietary data that was generated for a different purpose by applying it in a new way.
These external data sources range in structure, format and value. The real trick to big data is pulling the data from disparate sources, efficiently cleaning it and standardizing it to allow it to be cross-referenced, then finding novel ways to use it.
Example of Big Data in MA
In the last couple of years we have seen examples of companies set up to provide big data services to MA. I will single out one here as an example, but this is not intended as an endorsement. I have no relationship with this company or practical experience with their products.
The company, Med’meme, is a case study of big data in MA. Based on their website, Med’meme takes large, public data sets – in this case lists of scientific presentations from medical meetings and peer-reviewed journals and clinical trial information at least – and in their backroom they apparently standardize it to make all those data cross referenceable. How well they do this, how complete and how accurate the data is, I can’t say. But, when you think about that data source as an MA professional I am sure you are jumping to a bunch of potential uses – like the ability to rank KOLs, to identify new KOLs, to track TA trends in publishing, to identify potential investigators, to be alerted to new publication identification, etc.
And that is the beauty of big data – there does not appear to be anything in their data set that has not been available (with some costs) to biopharma for years. Their service is finding a way to scrape it all together, standardize it and allow it to be searched effectively.
Buy v Build in Big Data
When I first published the article about big data I had a number of “buy vs. build” questions. The reality of big data in its current form is about re-using publically available data in novel ways, so building it internally is unlikely to produce proprietary value. However, combining these data sets with proprietary data, or asking interesting and unique questions of the data is something that can remain proprietary – so some hybrid solutions may be valuable.
If big data is not a part of the MA information technology planning it should be. This capability represents an opportunity for strategic advantage in the short-term until it is widely adopted.
Big data is a new reality. A huge new data set, the Sunshine Act database, has just come on-line, and other data sources are increasingly making their data available for these types of analysis. Expect to see major development in this area in the coming couple of years.
What has been your experience with big data in MA? Leave a comment.
Note: This is a revised and extended version of a post I first published two years ago. This issue continues to evolve and be an area of focus for many MA Leaders.
I received a question about what an optimal relationship should be between MA and Access & Reimbursement in the US. Access & Reimbursement (AR) is the function in pharma that is primarily responsible for negotiating the relationship between the company and the major payers and/or providers. In some organizations this group is known as Managed Markets, Market Access, Payer Relationship, or Contracting. Their primary goal is ensuring that the company’s drugs are listed as advantageously as possible on the formulary of the payer.
AR has to make the case for reimbursement of their drug to a payer/providers Pharmacy and Technology Committee (P&T Committee) which is the body that ultimately makes the decision for the payer/provider. In the US, these P&T Committees consider the efficacy and safety of the treatment but they also consider the cost effectiveness of the treatment and its impact on total cost of care for a patient when deciding where to place the treatment on their formularies. The AR function has had to deal with a range of both government and private payers/providers, each with their own formularies.
The AR function in the US has grown in importance as the payers/providers have worked to limit their exposure to treatments they viewed as not cost effective through formulary placements that drive limitations like prior authorizations and co-payments for the patients. Even specialty areas like oncology, which used to have very few restrictions, are now seeing greater control exerted by the payers.
Defining a New Relationship
Just as the pressures on AR are forcing changes in the way they work with payers, those same pressures are changing the relationship between MA and AR. In the past, MA had a limited role to play in AR. For example, MA may have had a responsibility to train AR Account Managers on the scientific underpinnings of a new treatment, not dissimilarly to how MA may train sales staff. And AR might have occasionally asked an MA resource, typically Field Medical, to provide some scientific support for a formulary presentation. But, in general, these situations were ad hoc and limited.
However, now that AR’s success more directly drives the success of the pharma company and thus their importance has grown, the relationship between AR and MA is changing.
For a P&T Committee to control costs, they must be able to differentiate between treatments. This drives two major scientific needs:
Both of these ramped up requirements have direct impact on MA’s relationship with AR.
More Robust Scientific Understanding
MA’s role in terms of providing scientific support for P&T Committee presentations is growing from a part of the presentation to the core of the presentation. And with that growth comes the need for greater specialization by the presenters.
MA which develops and delivers the scientific elements of those presentations need to have a much more robust understanding of their P&T Committee audiences and how to effectively meet their scientific needs. This is leading to two trends in MA:
Given the importance of AR, supporting their needs can no longer be seen by MA as a side responsibility. Instead, it needs to be a core responsibility and an investment in training or personnel is needed to ensure that that Field Medical is prepared to adequately support this need. In addition to training, this will require new measures to be put in place to track Field Medical effectiveness, which I will discuss in a future blog post.
More Specialized Data
In many organizations, MA has taken the lead in developing data post-approval. And while HEOR has always been a part of generating that post-approval data, its importance has grown significantly. The increased demand for HEOR data has a number of implications:
In some companies have decided that HEOR is so important to AR that they have shifted the leadership of this research to the AR function itself. Whether the HEOR function reports to AR or is developed within MA, the need to ensure that the changing needs of P&T Committees are addressed has become a major priority for post-approval research.
MA’s role as the owner of scientific education and communication for post-approval drugs is a critical element in today’s formulary-driven environment. MA needs to be an active partner to AR as it works to ensure patient access to the company’s drugs.
In your experience what has been the key to effective MA / AR partnership? Leave your comments below.
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