Thoughts on Global Medical Affairs
A number of my friends in MA leadership have been debating the implications of the Amarin case for MA overall. Spoiler alert – I think it will prove to be another avenue for MA to add value and I will share my rationale below.
In case you have not been reading up on this case, you can see my brief discussion and some links to other sources of information on this blog post. When discussing the Amarin case it is critical to understand the context – this case was decided by a federal district judge in Manhattan for the Southern District of New York – so obviously this ruling does not set national standards. However, the Southern District court is one of the most influential and active courts in the US and it has a history of leading the nation.
Assuming that this ruling becomes the precedent for either other cases in other districts or even national cases, the question is if/when pharmaceutical companies have the flexibility to promote off-label data (with all the fair/balanced caveats) – what are the implications for MA?
So let’s go on a trip to a speculative future in which the ability to share off-label data with HCPs on proactive basis becomes accepted in the US. In this future, I would fully expect that the FDA decides to put guardrails around this freedom. Their rationale will be simple – there is high risk to patients if HCPs make decisions based on off-label information which have not run the full risk/benefit analysis of a product with an approved NDA. What would these regulations look like? We can get a good view from FDA’s response to Amarin (which we covered in detail here) the summary of which is that this education would need to be fair and balanced and, among many other things:
That would clearly call for a role similar to the MSL or field force role of today’s MA. But would that role need to be in MA, or more provocatively, would MA need to be a separate entity from commercial.
Those you that have been around the industry long enough remember when MA was sometimes a function of commercial, often called Scientific Sales. Driven by increasing FDA and EMA scrutiny primarily concerning off-label promotion and a desire to be seen as a voice of science instead of promotion, MA as an independent, non-promoting entity became the standard.
In our speculative future the US has loosened the off-label promotion rules, but the EMA has not and the need for an independent voice for science has not decreased so I do not foresee an effort to move MA back under commercial. Frankly that ship has already sailed since so many other functions that MA serves also benefit from it being independent from commercial.
So if MA is likely to remain independent would the MSL role remain in MA? I think that they would, not only due to inertia (although you can never over-estimate the power of inertia in pharma) but also because keeping the MSL role in MA would improve the case that the information presented was fair/balanced and not tainted by promotional messages.
Following my logic stream, MSLs would gain a new capability (ability to pro-actively share off-label data) while remaining in an MA function independent from commercial – so a net improvement to the value that MSLs and MA overall brings to the company. That can only be a good thing for MA leaders.
That was quite a bit of speculation – what is your opinion? Please click here to leave a comment.
As we have alluded to before, the House and Senate have been considering another tweaking of regulations related to pharma as part of the broad 21st Century Cures Act (Act). The House has taken a big step forward by approving on a bi-partisan basis the Act. Most of the headlines are focused on the increase in NIH funding, but for pharma people there is a lot of interesting suggested changes in the regulatory environment. NOTE: this is just the House version, the Senate will not take up the bill to later this year so we don’t know if any of these changes will come to pass – so far at least the White House is not threatening a veto.
You can find the whole bill here.
Medical Affairs: All about off label communication
Subsection 2102 explicitly requires the regulatory clarification about acceptable dissemination of off-label information:
Not later than 18 months after the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Health and Human Services shall issue draft guidance on facilitating the responsible dissemination of truthful and non-misleading scientific and medical information not included in the approved labeling of drugs and devices.
Implication for MA:
While conceivably once this guidance is issued anyone (commercial and medical) from the company can share off-label information, if the guidelines are anything like the guidance provided by the FDA in their response to the Amarin lawsuit which we discussed here that guidance will explicitly require that the information be discussed by someone from the company with “… the appropriate background or training to accurately communicate scientific information.”
So, conservatively interpreting that definition, if this act passes MA should finally have clear guidelines on how to proactively discuss off-label information. A BIG win for MA.
Clinical Development and Medical Affairs: Support for innovation in clinical trials
There are a number of requirements that could be clarified by the Act. I will highlight a few I think are most impactful.
The first is section 2021 which discusses the use of biomarkers. It establishes a process whereby biomedical research consortia can identify and agree upon biomarkers, then submit those biomarkers to the FDA for their review and approval, and once approved can be used by industry as surrogate endpoint. Draft guidance on this process is due no later than 24 months after enactment.
The second is subsection 2061, focused on broader use of adaptive trial design and Bayesian statistics. The Act requires the FDA to update and finalize the guidance on adaptive trial design within 18 months and issue draft guidance on the use of Bayesian statistical models within 48 months. So not exactly pushing the envelope on the Bayesian timeline for draft guidance.
The next is subsection 2062 deals with the use of “real world” observational / registry / safety data in the application for additional indications or to meet post-approval requirements. It requires that a program for the use of this type of data in these ways be established within 24 months including delineating when this type of data will be acceptable to the FDA, the standards and methods needed to be followed when collecting this data. One year after the program is up and running draft guidance is due and then a year after that final guidance is due.
Implications for CD MA
The implications of the acceptance of biomarkers as acceptable surrogate endpoints should have huge implications. Currently these endpoints are gathered but are not relied upon for fear that they will not be acceptable. Knowing in advance that they will be acceptable to the FDA will allow for much more streamlined data collection efforts.
Further clarity on adaptive trial design will be helpful but not earth-shattering. Adaptive trial design draft guidance already exists so all the act is really doing to pushing to get it out of the draft phase and finalized which should reduce risk and make adaptive trial designs more acceptable to less risk-tolerant organizations. This will hopefully push into becoming a standard in P2 trials, reducing the need for multiple trials. I’m not really qualified to discuss how the Bayesian statistical model impact development – if you understand this better than me please leave a note in the comments.
The “real world” data requirement, assuming it produces clear definitions from the FDA about the qualities that the data has to have to be acceptable, could be a dual edged sword. On the one hand, if they have very high expectations about the quality and cleanliness of this data in some cases, especially registries, it could raise the costs. On the other hand, clear definition of what data will be acceptable for additional indication applications will allow for the use of this data more broadly and thus more of these studies to be conducted, which is great overall for pharma.
I am curious to know what you think. Please leave a comment here.
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.
For a while we have been discussing the need for a specialized medical affairs function focused on Payers – we discussed it here.
But what about Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) or other integrated payer / provider models, where the provider owns both the cost and the outcomes of their work. This type of model is becoming more and more prevalent, yet most MA organization have not flexed to directly engage with these types of organizations.
The needs for these organization are not a match for current MSL field organizations focused on HCPs and, while payer oriented organizations may be better suited, they are not a perfect match either. Like payers, these groups are interested in population-level information. And, like payers, they care about total cost of care. But like HCPs they also place a greater emphasis on understanding treatments in the context of the overall disease progression and methodologies for approaches for ensuring improved outcomes with existing treatments.
I suggest that MA organizations are going to need to develop groups that directly target these ACOs. These will be teams that understand population health and quality metrics.And MA is going to need to collect this population data directly. One thing that seems clear is that HEOR secondary endpoints gathered during P3 simply lack credibility with these audiences since they know the P3 had inclusion/exclusion criteria that did not model their patient population. Real world data and post marketing studies, already important for payers, is going to be equally important for these ACOs.
MA is going to need to come to them with models of costs and outcomes and budget impact, then partner with them to validate the model and gather relevant data about treatment approaches which produce the best results for the least costs.
What do you think? Leave a comment by clicking here.
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.
Have you seen the new FDA guidance about disclosing risk in consumer-directed print advertising that came out in February? (You can see it here) Unless you are a gluten for FDA guidance-reading punishment, my guess is that you skipped this one since it seems to be commercially focused.
BUT, there is actually something that MA should be aware of and perhaps an opportunity to add some value to our commercial brethren. The focus of the guidance is straight forward – under current law print advertising has to also disclose risks, and the safest approach for disclosing that risk is to publish the full package insert (PI) along with the print ad. As we know PIs are a tough read normally, but when shrunk down to fit in a magazine they are almost unreadable and certainly mostly incomprehensible to the very audience they are supposed to be protecting – consumers.
This has not been lost on the FDA and the guidance linked to above was entirely focused on resolving this issue.
In an FDA survey, few respondents reported reading half or more of the brief summary presented in the traditional format. Of those who read at least some of the brief summary, 55 percent described it as hard to read. Over 40 percent of respondents in the survey reported they do not usually read any of the brief summary in direct-to-consumer prescription drug print advertisements.
The FDA realizes that the full PI is aimed at medical professionals and full of details that the vast majority of consumers don’t care about like clinical pharmacology or chemistry. So the FDA is suggesting that manufactures should have the flexibility to replace the PI with something they are now calling “consumer brief summary.”
What is a consumer brief summary? Per the guidance it is an explanation written in consumer-friendly language (ie. drowsiness not somnolence) that includes:
And this is where Medical Affairs comes into play. Now our commercial colleagues and their agencies are going to be needing to develop information that includes medical judgement, like:
These questions are great ones for Medical Affairs to either provide guidance, answer directly or gather information from practitioners during their interactions to answer these questions and others. Given the proper but strong firewalls between MA and commercial, this new guidance provides a value-added opportunity for MA to provide some guidance to commercial.
MA leaders may wish to discuss this topic with their commercial colleagues.
Do you have any thoughts on the new guidance? Leave them in the comments by clicking HERE and scrolling down to the comment box.
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.
If you have a topic you would like me to cover, please email me from the link to the right.
“The era of Big Data is here!” That may be true but what does that mean for Medical Affairs? As in all of biopharma, MA is comfortable working with data. So much of our work revolves around discussing data and the implications of data that many people may think that we were already living in the era of Big Data.
But for most MA organizations, the data sets we have focused on are purpose generated – either our own data or data from similarly-scaled studies conducted by others. Big Data refers to something different. I like the differentiation that SAS uses when comparing Big Data to the past data sets. They break it down to four “V”s and a C:
This is not your grandfather’s data sets. What are some examples of Big Data as relevant to biopharma and MA:
Contained within these and many Big Data sources are key tools for MA:
But, none of these benefits can be achieved unless the question is asked and the data is analyzed. I would suggest that effective MA organizations of the future will need to have the capacity to ask and answer these types of questions.
In order to do so, MA organizations will either need to build or have access to increased levels of biostatistical and epidemiological resources. And these resources need to have skills directly related to Big Data. The characteristics that differentiate Big Data from existing data sets also means that many existing biostats and epi staff do not have the expertise or confidence working with these large, external data sets. MA organizations need to ensure that people with exactly these skills sets are available within their organizations or from outside vendors and that these resources have the capacity to support MA.
Then, MA needs to improve its overall level of confidence defining Big Data questions, conducting Big Data analysis, and discussing the results with others. Given the difference in the source of this type of data, the way this data is presented and discussed must be different too. Everyone in MA, but especially the MSLs, must become more comfortable understanding the nuance of this type of data analysis and discussing both the strengths and weaknesses of working with Big Data.
The era of Big Data is here. MA has a long history of effectively using data and explaining data in support of its organization. MA leaders must investigate and embrace Big Data to take advantage of all the tools available today. The questions unasked are always the questions unanswered.
What is your experience with Big Data? Please leave a comment.
Disruptive change is a frequent topic on this blog because it represents both a threat and opportunity for MA Leaders. For example, I have discussed the Caronia ruling at length because it could fundamentally alter the relationship between MA and Commercial.
Clinical Development is facing a disruptive change of its own that not only will alter the way it works but offers an interesting opportunity for some MSL groups.
As most of my readers know, one of the largest expenses in executing a clinical trial is monitoring costs. The need to send a human being to each site every 4 to 8 weeks during a trial to manually review the paper source records and compare those results to the data entered in the electronic data capture (EDC) system accounts for roughly 30% of a major study’s budget.
However, this is about to change. With the rise of tablet computers and ubiquitous internet, a range of technology platforms are now available to allow for the elimination of paper-based source records. For example, the company Clinical Ink, provides a Windows tablet that completely eliminates the need for paper source records by recording not just that data required for the study sponsor (which is what is in the EDC) but also the data needed by the physician administering the study to manage their records. Once the physicians can eliminate the need to keep separate paper records, the last stumbling block to all electronic source records will have been overcome.
All electronic source records is a highly disruptive change to clinical development. All electronic source records means that source data verification no longer needs to occur on-site. The majority of the monitoring visits could be eliminated and the role of the Clinical Research Associate (CRA) versus role of the Clinical Data Manager (CDM) will change significantly.
Today CRA’s do more than just monitoring visits. They also conduct site initiation visits, and other high-visibility meetings with the site to ensure that it is on track. However, when you eliminate the need for monitoring visits, it opens an opportunity to ask if the CRA is really the best representative to provide other support to the site.
I would suggest that this disruptive change offers and opportunity for the MSLs to step up and serve as the face of the company for key studies.
Already many MSL groups get involved in this manner along side CRAs for key studies. In the future MSLs could replace the CRAs for the customer-facing aspects of key studies, just like CDMs will replace CRAs for the electronic source data verification processes. It would require changes to SOPs and some additional work and training for the MSLs but the benefits for the organization would be significant:
These are just a few of the benefits for engaging the MSLs in this new manner. But, like all disruptive change, this is not going to come about naturally. For MSLs to engage in this new manner, MA Leadership will need to reach out to their CD counterparts, discuss this disruptive change and push for a new role for MSLs.
What are your thoughts? Leave a comment or send me an email.