Build a Global MSL Presence with Team Benchmarks and Metrics
A cornerstone of physician outreach and education in the United States, medical science liaison (MSL) teams occupy a strategic role that is rapidly expanding worldwide. In addition to thought leader management, MSLs now support a number of internal clients as they take on market access and emerging healthcare issues. These trends lead MSLs in exciting new directions — but they also call for new team management strategies.
Use this report to build or establish your MSL team in the shifting global healthcare landscape. Benchmarks and best practices focus on key points of MSL operations: structure, budgets, staffing and compensation. Showcasing data for the US and other countries, this study contains strategic recommendations that apply to MSL teams across the industry and in regions around the globe.
Expand and Focus Your MSL Team
As the MSL role expands, teams address workflow and elevate efficiency. Right-size your MSL teams with in-depth per-team benchmarks. Then, compare education and experience metrics to identify your ideal MSL candidates, and retain quality liaisons using real-company compensation data.
Win Critical Resources
MSL success depends on strong resource support. Benchmark budgets for MSL teams in the US, Europe and Asia Pacific, and allocate resources to better meet KOL and company needs.
Align MSL Structure with Company Needs
Consider the benefits and drawbacks of different territory alignments with six case studies, and navigate the promotional firewall to increase coordination between MSLs and commercial teams.
Overcome Globalization Challenges to Maximize Impact in New Markets
US-based MSL teams are sophisticated groups that have reached a point of operational maturity. Learn how to adapt the best parts of the US model to MSL groups in other markets.
Chapter 1: The Global Expansion of Medical Science Liaisons
Develop global MSL standards to accommodate the increased globalization of medical affairs teams.
Translate the mature US MSL model to manage market-specific regulations for other teams.
Drive collaboration between US and affiliate MSL teams to improve training and share best practices.
Expand the US MSL’s ability to respond to emerging life science industry issues, including CER, PROs and patient-centered marketing/communication
Evolve the MSL role to communicate health outcomes research to payers and physicians.
14 charts focused on MSL team operations, supported therapeutic areas, and outsourcing. Throughout the chapter, data are broken out by company type — Top 20, Top 50, small/biotech and device/diagnostic — and by specific countries.
Percentage of companies with MSL operations (by company type and by country)
Therapeutic areas supported by MSL teams (by company type)
Percentage of companies that outsource MSL work (by company type)
Percentage of companies planning to outsource MSL work in the future (by company type)
Chapter 2: Building and Funding a Successful MSL Team
Structure MSL teams based on market size and MSL activities to bolster productivity.
Determine funding levels for specific MSL team activities.
Respond to the unique needs of MSL teams in small companies and small markets.
Compare the benefits and drawbacks of seven different territory alignment strategies.
Navigate organization firewalls to strengthen cross-functional coordination.
Provide adequate team resources to better meet KOLs’ needs and cultivate strong relationships.
Identify which factors influence budget setting and budgetary needs for MSL teams worldwide.
Discover how medical device MSL teams’ needs differ from those of pharmaceutical teams.
80 charts focused on MSL team structure and budgets. Data are broken down by company type — Top 20, Top 50, small/biotech and device/diagnostic — and by specific countries.
Percentage of companies with dedicated MSL teams
Level of executive overseeing MSL activities
Average age of departments handling MSL activities (by company type)
Major company division overseeing MSL functions
Factors used to establish annual MSL budgets (by company type)
Average percentage of MSL funding contributed by specific functions (by company type)
Percentage of MSL budget dedicated to different spending segments
Average MSL budgets (by country and by company type)
Global MSL budgets (by company type)
MSL budgets for Top 20 companies, by country (United States, Germany, United Kingdom, France, Italy, Spain, Canada, Japan)
MSL budgets for Top 50 companies, by country (United States, Germany, United Kingdom, France, Italy, Spain, Canada, Japan, Australia, Mexico)
MSL budgets for small/biotech companies, by country (United States, United Kingdom, France)
MSL budgets for device/diagnostic companies in the United States
Average spending per MSL (by country and by company type)
Average global spending per MSL (by company type)
Global spending per MSL for Top 20 companies, by country (United States, Germany, United Kingdom, France, Italy, Spain, Canada, Japan)
Global spending per MSL for Top 50 companies, by country (United States, Germany, United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, Canada, Japan, Mexico)
Global spending per MSL for small/biotech companies, by country (United States, United Kingdom, France)
Chapter 3: Staffing, Developing and Compensating a Robust MSL Team
Match MSL headcounts with strategic criteria including product portfolio size, number of KOL relationships, territories covered and available resources
Examine the global distribution of MSLs and benchmark team size (number of teams and MSLs per team).
Understand which factors contribute to the decrease or elimination of MSL teams.
Identify and define the ideal MSLs for working with both specialist opinion leaders and primary care physicians.
Benchmark education, experience and training requirements to develop highly skilled MSLs.
Use real-company MSL salary benchmarks to attract and retain MSLs with competitive compensation.
64 charts focused on MSL team staffing and sizes. Data are broken down by company type — Top 20, Top 50, small/biotech and device/diagnostic — and by specific countries.
Criteria used to establish the number of MSLs employed (by company type)
Average number of MSLs (by country and by company type)
Number of MSL teams per company (by company type)
Average number of MSLs per team (by country and by company type)
Reasons for decreasing or eliminating MSL teams (by company type)
Level of education attained by MSLs working with specialist opinion leaders (by company type)
Level of education attained by MSLs working with primary care physicians (by company type)
Average years of healthcare/pharma industry experience for MSLs working with specialist opinion leaders (by company type)
Average years of healthcare/pharma industry experience for MSLs working with primary care physicians (by company type)
Frequency of MSL training (by company type)
Average compensation for MSLs who work with specialist opinion leaders, by experience level (no experience, 2 years’ experience and five years’ experience)
Compensation for MSLs who work with primary care physicians, by experience level (no experience, 2 years’ experience and five years’ experience)
The following is a key finding excerpted from the full report's Executive Summary.
Expand MSL Teams into Europe to Meet Emerging Regulatory Challenges
A primary factor contributing to the growth of MSLs worldwide is global regulatory change impacting life sciences companies’ relationships with medical researchers, physicians and other medical providers. Certainly, addressing physicians’ needs for medical information remains MSLs’ top responsibility. But drug and device companies have begun to leverage field-based liaisons’ ability to communicate complex medical information into opportunities for growth amid stricter regulatory policies.
In the United States, life sciences companies have developed standard operating procedures for MSLs to operate within the guidelines set forth by both government entities and the industry itself. These guidelines include the 2003 Office of Inspector General’s Guidance for Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and the 2009 PhRMA Code for Interactions with Healthcare Professionals. Detailed SOPs outline how field-based representatives — sales and medical alike — can responsibly and compliantly work with key opinion leaders, physicians, nurses and mid-level healthcare providers.
Similar regulations are cropping up outside of the US. For instance, the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry will require disclosure of physician payments for member companies by 2013, similar to the Sunshine Act that passed in the United States. Drug and device companies now find that their European and even some Asian affiliates have had to develop similar SOPs in response.
Pharma companies anticipate stricter regulatory policies in Europe, especially, but also around the world. Life sciences companies have begun to build medical affairs organizations similar to those in the United States. Because US regulations are relatively strict already, these internal structures have proven to be good models for organizing compliant medical communications. This is especially true at the field level through MSLs. Cutting Edge Information collected robust data detailing the field-based liaison teams’ growth in Europe across all company sizes. Primarily, Top 20 and Top 50 companies fuel the MSL role’s worldwide expansion.
Figure E.3 [figure included in full report] shows the aggregate staffing levels for surveyed companies in the United States, Europe and Asia. The data show that, on average, surveyed companies of all types have 48.4 full-time MSLs on staff in the US. But these companies have sizable European MSL headcounts as well. On average, companies have 25.0 MSLs working throughout Europe. Primarily, these MSLs are housed within the five major European markets (Germany, United Kingdom, France, Spain and Italy). Some larger companies have expanded into Scandinavia and other parts of the continent. Incidentally, Figure E.3 also shows a growing number of MSLs in Asia. The data also show an average of 11.4 MSLs per company in Asia. These companies are primarily based in Japan, but some have begun to expand into China and India.
Life sciences companies allocate sizable budgets to support European MSL teams as well. Survey data shows that, on average, companies surveyed allocate $11.7 million for US MSL operations. European MSL budgets are not quite half as high, as shown in Figure E.4. European budgets currently average $5.0 million. The aggregate data for Asia shows that across all companies, MSL budgets average $2.2 million.
Perhaps the most important reason to expand MSLs into Europe is that companies are training these field-based liaisons to communicate health outcomes data to payers. This trend is not particularly recent in the United States. However, the emergence of MSLs in Europe, combined with the life sciences industry’s emphasis on building payer relationships, puts liaisons in a uniquely valuable position. Companies now focus on establishing relationships between liaisons and managed care organizations, health insurers and other payers. They hope to gain a better understanding of payers’ needs when it comes time to apply for a new product’s reimbursement. In Europe, payer relationship management is a high priority for drug and device companies. MSLs’ ability to communicate not only complex medical information, but also complex health economics data is a particularly valuable skill set that life sciences companies need to employ.