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Do we even need Medical Affairs roles anymore?

Do we even need Medical Affairs roles anymore?

This was something I have been questioned about, and on more than one occasion.  I should add that the question was posed in a constructive sense when thinking about function agnostic roles, rather than questioning whether Medical Affairs roles provided any value.  The question is important to address on both fronts though.  Given the function of Medical Affairs was reportedly born out of a commercial part of a pharmaceutical company in the 1960s, much has changed in the preceding years and the value of Medical Affairs is now very different to that even a few years ago. (1)

Many companies are discovering their Medical Affairs teams are able to do more and deliver greater value than ever before, due to the unique relationship with healthcare providers, patient, carer representatives and by translating innovative science into practical clinical benefits.  Along with advancing the science, and using the latest technologies, the boundaries for Medical Affairs roles is expanding all the time.  However, the same can be said of other roles in the industry, no longer do the roles of even a decade ago exist in the same box they were in.  So, do we still need Medical Affairs roles anymore?

Current sources of value for Medical Affairs

Medical Affairs roles typically operate in a unique position that revolves around orchestrating solutions in companies to understand and deliver to patient needs by advancing and translating the science for healthcare providers and users.  The typical activities that Medical Affairs leads to achieve this include collaborating with key opinion leaders to advance the science and clinical understanding of therapeutics/diseases, developing and delivering on evidence generation plans, delivering medical education and driving scientific exchange as well as gaining and acting on unique insights gained through collaborations and partnerships.  Strong leadership is required to achieve these activities successfully.

The roles and responsibilities are varied, measures of success differ according to different considerations and importance to organisations/individuals, and therefore demonstrating value is not straightforward.  Although comparisons are usually made with commercial functions where the metric of sales is usually quoted, Medical Affairs does not have a unique and simple metric or marker of success.  Should this matter too much? For example, it wasn’t too long ago when GSK experimented with using a different metric of success for its sales teams rather than just reviewing sales data.  The short answer is that it should matter, especially when many Medical Affairs teams struggle to communicate the value they bring to organistions and are not positioned for optimal success, but most importantly it matters to healthcare systems and patients.  Circuit Medical has worked with many leading Medical Affairs teams to define, operate to, evolve and communicate the value that Medical Affairs brings.  There is no one answer, but there are commonalities that help people to understand this value.

Medical roles in the future

Going back to that question about function agnostic roles and whether Medical Affairs roles are still required.   When thinking about the simplicity that healthcare providers want and how pharmaceutical companies deliver this within the current regulations, it may well be possible improve on the current situation and to have roles that could deliver to these needs. 

For example, the firewall that exists between commercial/ promotional and non-promotional roles could be relaxed or even removed if those roles do not report into commercial management and are not assessed on commercial/sales goals.  Individuals in such roles would require capability sets that enable them to smartly execute roles that may not have much industry precedent and still require guardrails to operate effectively and compliantly.  If the primary purpose of these roles is to ensure that healthcare providers have access to what they need to serve their patients well, whilst at the same time advance the science for the future, then would such holistic roles meet the needs of healthcare providers more effectively?  A case could easily be made for such roles, after all, how many times have you been passed onto the third or fourth person in an organisation to answer your questions? 

Having a simple way to interact with companies is surely advantageous for healthcare providers and ultimately can bring patient benefit faster.   Collaboration and good leadership skills are still crucial to achieving success in such roles and ‘soft skills’ matter a lot when working in this manner.  The disease area and other extrinsic factors are also important when considering such roles e.g. rare diseases vs. primary care managed diseases. 

Circuit Medical can help you to review your Medical Affairs priorities as well as help you to answer the question about what makes you are fit for the future.  In short, Medical Affairs brings immense value, but how that value is delivered must be shaped to best serve the needs of the healthcare ecosystem, the patients and be operable organisationally.


1) Morgan DK, Domann DE, Collins GE, et al. History and evolution of feld-based medical programs. Drug Inf J. 2000;34(4):1049–52.

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