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All things Pharma

The integration of medical and commercial functions within pharma

What steps can be taken to sensibly and safely move toward integrating medical and commercial functions and providing benefit to the industry, healthcare patients (HCPs) and patients? Here, Michael Banks, Managing Director, Best MSLs and Mary Anne Greenberg, CEO, Diligent Health Solutions share their insight.


The boundaries between medical and commercial functions within pharma and biotech companies have long been well-defined—one ends where the other begins. This siloed approach can result in mis-aligned strategies, knowledge gaps within the company, and a potentially fragmented experience for healthcare professionals (HCPs).

The industry is beginning to re-think these boundaries, with a focus on leveraging resources, enhancing processes, and sharing data. This is especially important in the rare disease space—where there are increasingly complex therapies for smaller patient populations. Integration initiatives should be designed to increase knowledge, with an overarching goal of better health outcomes for patients.

Of course, the establishment of firewalls to prevent the inappropriate sharing of data must be front and center in any discussion about medical/commercial integration.

In this article, we define ‘medical’ as Medical Information (MI) and Medical Science Liaison (MSL) services; and ‘Commercial’ as sales (field, virtual, hybrid) and patient engagement programs. In our view, there are initial steps that can be taken to sensibly and safely move toward integrating medical and commercial functions and providing benefit to the industry, HCPs and patients, detailed below.

Increase the focus on sharing insights
The information gathered and documented by MI teams can be of value in driving commercial strategy. For instance:

  • The nature and frequency of HCP inquiries can help define the messaging presented by sales teams.
  • Patient engagement programs that are designed in light of the ‘voice of the consumer’ are likely to more effectively achieve the program’s defined goals.

Key data points about HCP interests and activity can be reported to reflect trends on an aggregate as well as HCP level. These reports can be shared across commercial leadership and reviewed together by commercial and medical stakeholders.

Create stronger ties between the sales and Medical Science Liaison teams
Sales representatives, whether working in the field or virtually, will occasionally be asked off-label questions. Having an ‘on-demand’ MSL available to answer the HCP’s question in real-time will enhance the company’s credibility in the eyes of the HCP and can also positively affect patient health outcomes. This additional capability can be deployed with existing MSLs or as a new dedicated resource.

Enable frictionless responses for both medical and commercial inquires
Most pharma and biotech companies provide toll-free numbers for medical information and other functions that direct callers (patients, caregivers, HCPs) to an internal or outsourced team. The best experience is for the requestor to get their needs met with one call but consider the following frequently-occurring scenarios:

  • An HCP reaches MI and, in the course of the conversation, requests a visit from a sales representative. The MI specialist identifies the assigned rep by the HCP’s post code and alerts the rep of the request, usually by email or through a CRM platform used by the sales team. There is no assurance that a connection will be made between the HCP and the sales rep, and it is not part of the MI specialist’s process to follow up.
  • A pharmaceutical marketing team implements a patient engagement program to increase adherence. A patient enrolled in the program calls Medical Information by mistake and, in accordance with their training, the MI Specialist transfers the call and drops off the line. The patient reveals subsequently reveals an adverse event and is transferred back to Medical Information.
  • An HCP asks a representative about an investigator-initiated trial idea, and the representative’s next step may be to inform the MSL. There is no assurance that the representative will refer the inquiry to the MSL in a timely or compliant manner.

In these and similar scenarios, collaboration between Medical and Commercial when designing workflows for intersecting processes would result in a more consistent (and better) outcome for the requestor. Beyond process, providing read-only access to function-specific databases allows internal colleagues to check the resolution of a specific request or inquiry (unless doing so violates data privacy policies).

Evaluate the success of HCP-focused initiatives more holistically
While ROI will always be a factor in determining the value of any commercial program—including those focused on HCPs—there is benefit to expanding beyond ROI to more qualitative measurements, such as:

  • What were the reasons the HCP (or their staff) contacted Medical Information?
  • How often did the HCP request to speak with an MSL and on what subjects?
  • What documents did the HCP access via a self-service portal?
  • What company-sponsored meetings or webinars did the HCP attend? (And what topics did express an interest in learning more about?)

Having a 360 degree view of an HCP’s areas of interest helps to better meet their informational needs consistent and ongoing basis.

This topic, among others, was discussed in a September 2021 white paper from Reuters Events entitled Medical- Commercial Collaborating to Win in the Digital Era. It included results from a global survey of more than 1000 senior professionals working mostly in pharma and biotech companies. A direct quote from the white paper about the Medical and Commercial functions within those companies working more closely together: The overwhelmingly majority (95%) of respondents agree that greater collaboration is beneficial and most predict that deeper and broader collaboration is coming.”

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Emma Cooper
Emma is Digital Editor at Pf.

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