We’ve all heard it before – ‘the pharma industry is booming’ – and it’s true. The continuous, explosive growth of the industry has become the new normal, as an explosion of product launches saturate the market year after year. In fact, the number of drugs in R&D pipeline worldwide has tripled over the last 20 years, with over 18,500 drugs in pipeline in 2021*.
While this advancement in treatment possibilities is thrilling, it is challenging for new products, indication expansions, and label updates launching into an already crowded market. And these days, the narrative for the molecule is often defined earlier on, in channels such as Investor Relations communication, KOL forums, and conferences. If our clients don’t own and shape the value of new assets early on, the market (and even competitors) will do it for them.
Medical Affairs can play a key role in controlling of that narrative by crafting a compelling scientific story.
But shaping scientific communication can be tricky. The fact of the matter is that Medical Affairs teams can no longer rely on strong data alone to tell the story of an asset’s value. The overabundance of new treatment options in the market means HCPs are constantly reviewing new clinical data and have the luxury of being selective in the treatments they introduce into their algorithms.
So how can Medical Affairs cut through the noise and encourage HCPs to pay attention?
In today’s market, scientific stories cannot be one-size-fits all. A well-executed IMA is only part of the equation; the data must be carefully delivered in a way that feels personalized and customized. This task falls to the MSLs, who are ultimately responsible for navigating the conversation in a way that will (or will not) resonate with HCPs, cementing perceptions of the asset long after the MSL leaves the office.
That is no small task, and is a meaningful departure from the traditional, clinical-centric focus of the MSL. Today’s MSL is not just a scientist, they are the human voice of the asset or solution. A good MSL must ask themselves: how can I tweak the framing of the story to best capture each HCP’s individual interests? How can I effectively link the data to the HCP’s world – what problem will the data solve?
That level of responsibility warrants a helpful hand, informed by market research insights.
At Shapiro+Raj, our scientific story research plans produce insights that sharpen all aspects of the scientific story – resulting in an actionable IMA refinement plan and human-centric information to set MSLs up for success (e.g., HCP areas of interest, what they may want/not want to hear, and other tips for ensuring receptivity of the data). We believe good scientific story research must be guided by the following principles:
1. Clear and comprehensive research design
First, we must perfect the IMA by answering the following questions:
A. What the scientific story delivers as-is
How well is it delivering on physician needs?
What is working well?
Where is it falling short, and can these shortcomings be addressed?
B. What can it become
If optimized, how well could it deliver on key communication objectives?
C. How can it get there
How can it be optimized to build on strengths without violating the core idea?
What adjustments will make the greatest difference in its potential?
2. Immersive, intellectually stimulating conversation to capture MSL/HCP dynamic
While asking the right questions is critically important – it’s more than that. It’s about creating an immersive conversation that mirrors an MSL/HCP engagement.
This starts with an expert moderator; one who can speak the HCPs’ language. It takes a special moderator to keep up with an HCP on a clinical level, but when HCPs feel that their moderator can understand their concerns without having to translate into layman’s terms, that’s where the magic happens, allowing us to capture HCPs’ needs at a very detailed level.
Our moderators have significant healthcare experience and put in the work to replicate the same level of intellectual stimulation an HCP would typically experience with an MSL.
For example, Thomas Richardson, one of our lead scientific story moderators has a strong clinical background, having worked as a Physician Assistant, and earned his PhD in Epidemiology. Tom explains the value of his clinical background in moderating scientific story research by saying…
“I really love these projects. I feel like I am right back in the clinical setting bantering the merits of new treatments with colleagues, but also sitting in an academic journal club where we are critically assessing the clinical trial design, patient population studied, the clinical outcomes and the safety of a drug in a new trial.
I try to approach each conversation like a peer-to-peer discussion, without judgment, where I am able to listen and probe and hopefully connect at a level with each respondent in a way that makes them feel comfortable and eager to provide candid and honest feedback on the materials, even if it makes them feel vulnerable at times if they may not know something that they feel they should.
It’s a real balance and having the clinical and epi backgrounds certainly seems to help build credibility with them so they don’t have to “dumb it down” and we can get to the deeper levels of scientific and clinical discussion. This ranges from understanding numerous acronyms to advanced statistical methods. We both want the discussion to flow and get into a nice cadence. When you do, you know you are hitting on all cylinders.”
3. Human-centric output that tangibly supports the MSL
We know that how we say something is often more important than what we say. For that reason, it’s important that the ‘squishier’ recommendations of the research findings don’t get lost on the way to the MSL.
That’s why our final report of findings is infused with MSL tips for engaging with HCPs, tailored by the needs of each IMA. In addition, we create easy-to-read ‘MSL tips and tricks’ one-sheet guides to ensure consistent pull-through of findings, in a grab-and-go format.
Let us help you identify, craft, and deliver a winning scientific story
Ultimately, we know that upfront investment in crafting the optimum scientific story pays back multifold down the road, by deepening relationships with HCPs and shaping the scientific narrative. If you are looking for help identifying the narratives that can best shape your business and drive advocacy to deliver transformative outcomes, reach out to us @ [email protected].