Medical Affairs: Unlocking Possibilities for a Contemporary Approach to Scientific Engagement

Written by Jill Condello, Senior Vice President, Medical Strategy, OPEN Health on Thursday 24th August 2023

The Medical Affairs function within pharmaceutical, biotechnology and medical device companies has been on an accelerated evolutionary trajectory in recent years. Previously supportive and reactive, Medical Affairs is now proactively leading the development of strategies for evidence generation, data communication and personalized engagement. True, a deep knowledge of science and medicine has long been the hallmark of Medical Affairs, driving the function’s criticality to two-way interactions with internal and external stakeholders. But now that store of medical and scientific knowledge is more critical than ever, as Medical Affairs takes center stage amid a dynamic environment whose drivers include the increased complexity of technologies and therapeutics, the rise of precision medicine as a standard of care and a focus on value demonstration from clinical, humanistic and economic perspectives, thereby expanding Medical Affairs’ engagements beyond HCPs to include those involved across the continuum of patient care and medication access.

In a rapidly evolving digital communication landscape marked by the emergence of hybrid forums for stakeholder engagement, including meetings with Medical Science Liaisons and participation in medical congresses, Medical Affairs is being tasked with implementing new models of engagement to optimize its communication formats and channels—and it is delivering them.

Mining insights

Medical Affairs team members are uniquely positioned to mine insights from external stakeholder interactions, particularly those with healthcare professionals, as they can engage at a peer-to-peer level, then bring those insights forward to a cross-functional strategic table along with insights from R&D, clinical, commercial, patient advocacy and market access.

Medical Affairs’ future in scientific engagement for gathering and mining insights entails further elucidating a role for artificial intelligence as well as leveraging social media and exploring the role of digital opinion leaders.

Addressing stakeholder needs through evidence planning

One workstream that is particularly dependent on cross-functional insight mining is evidence generation planning. Companies have increasingly been appointing Medical Affairs teams as the driver of this workstream, wherein they work collaboratively with other functions to determine how to address data gaps and assess the risks of not generating evidence of importance to external stakeholders. Medical Affairs brings to this role the ability to engage with external stakeholders to validate the evidence generation plan and identify proposals for investigator-initiated research strategically aligned with it.

In addition, Medical Affairs is championing the identification of non-registrational evidence needs, which can be communicated in peer-reviewed scientific forums and in response to unsolicited requests to optimize product utilization and patient benefit.

Optimizing scientific communications and stakeholder engagement

A fundamental responsibility of Medical Affairs is to translate important details of an asset’s profile, such as its mechanism of action and resultant clinical value, into a less technical language that can be better understood by those with varying levels of scientific or clinical expertise. Medical Affairs ensures that communications are strategically aligned with the organization’s medical objectives, that available and relevant evidence—from multiple sources, including patients—is integrated into communications to ensure scientific rigor and accurate interpretation of data, and that communications are placed in the appropriate context, with value being translated in a manner that resonates with the intended audiences.

Its legacy as a trusted scientific partner has placed Medical Affairs at the forefront of data communication with external stakeholders, where it stands to excel by developing scientific communication platforms, a foundational element for communications around a disease state, an asset’s clinical profile and, at emerging biotechnology companies, a platform technology. By developing communication strategies that go beyond data dissemination, Medical Affairs stands poised to optimize digital and virtual engagement by promoting scientific exchange in critical forums, ranging from in-person conferences to social media channels, while continuing to conform with compliance policies. Medical Affairs is well positioned to excel here, leveraging feedback from its interactions with external stakeholders to inform new omnichannel approaches to communicating data in compelling ways. For example, data visualization is increasingly being used to place data into context and allow stakeholders to evaluate data subsets and analyses in a more personalized, on-demand manner.

In addition, Medical Affairs’ engagement with stakeholders will continue to expand beyond healthcare professionals. The focus on patient-centricity sparked by the Institute of Medicine’s landmark 2001 publication, Crossing the Quality Chasm: A New Health System for the 21st Century, has elevated strategic thinking around leveraging patients’ insights and voices through co-creation workstreams.

At OPEN Health, our global team of scientifically trained experts work strategically alongside our client partners in Medical Affairs to support them on their accelerated evolutionary trajectory by:

  • Creating evidence-based scientific narratives that resonate with external stakeholders, compelling them to act upon data-driven insights
  • Interrogating scientific communication platforms against existing data sets and external stakeholder perceptions to uncover evidence and educational gaps
  • Developing tactical medical communication plans that align with strategic objectives, pull through the scientific communication platform, and address existing gaps
  • Ensuring that their scientific communications address not just clinical but also humanistic and economic value by incorporating the expertise of health economics and outcomes research and patient engagement experts into our strategic planning initiatives
  • Engaging dedicated creative and omnichannel support teams to ensure data is being communicated in a personalized manner that resonates with external stakeholders through their preferred channels

Working in partnership with our clients, we embrace our different perspectives and strengths to deliver fresh thinking and solutions that make a difference.

Together we can unlock possibilities.

For information about OPEN Health’s services and how we could support you, please get in touch.