Five Hot Topics in Medical Affairs That Should Be On Your Radar for 2017

I recently got back from this year’s  DIA Medical Affairs and Scientific Communications Forum. 
It was a great trip. From the beautiful resort, the excellent agenda, to meeting old  friends and new to presenting some survey data on collaboration. The grand finale on my trip home? Meeting an IT expert, who was happy to discuss  IT systems in highly-regulated aviation, banking and insurance industries.

My only regret is that I couldn’t be at every presentation.

Topic 1: Medical Communications Compliance – ensuring your Advisory Board doesn’t turn into an Advertising Board

A key topic at any pharma industry conference compliance is here to stay.  Monica Kwarcinski (Purdue Pharma L.P.) and Mark DeWyngaert (Huron Life Sciences) managed to convey their enthusiasm in their mammoth compliance session. While the foundation of compliant information provision is simple enough: provide only truthful and non-misleading information to your customers, the devil is in the detail.

So, how do you ensure consistency across your Medical Affairs teams? What systems do you use, what processes do you follow? How do you ensure that educational activities such as advisory boards, early access programs and key opinion leader engagement are appropriate and not open to being interpreted as promotional? Key risks mentioned in this context included: focusing information provision only on key customers, engaging only product champions to speak at events or using advisory boards to talk to physicians about products, rather than getting their insights. If during your advisory boards you use more air-time than the attending physicians might an external assessor see your activities as promotional and conclude that your advisory board is in fact an advertising board? Other areas of increased risk touched on included providing reimbursement advice, managing risk when you are co-promoting a product with a partner or when in the process of merging with another company. Naturally data privacy, which was covered in a separate session, also needs to go on your radar for 2017.

Recommended reading?  Recent draft guidance on Medical Product Communications Consistent with FDA labeling and communicating with payers and formulary committees (FDA website). For off-label topics:  2016 FDA Public hearing on the communication of Off-label uses of Approved Products  and the 2011:  “Guidance for Industry Responding to Unsolicited Requests for Off-Label Information”

Topic 2:   Globalisation in Medical – one simple thing you can do to help you get it right 

Globalisation has been in focus for a while now.  It remains firmly in the spotlight as companies seek to work intelligently, efficiently and within resource constraints.  I’ve worked on a number of projects setting up global and regional structures for various companies. My key insight? There is no single best solution. The “what” can differ dramatically from company to company. The ideal structure is influenced by company size, available resource, the product portfolio and life-cycle and the IT set-up. Underpinning everything is the available budget and the key driver for the change. Naturally understanding how your country teams work ,and local regulations, is also critical. Success in globalisation, in my experience, depends on really understanding your current and future desired state and tailoring an approach to your organisation.

The good news is that, if, in addition to the above, you engage and involve your stakeholders early, and communicate frequently,  you are almost guaranteed to succeed. Quite simply. 

Topic 3:   Digital, Social Media – or to tweet or not to tweet? And if yes. Why?

Social media is an increasingly popular source of health information.  A survey of  US HCPs  presented at the meeting reported that 64%  find social media somewhat or extremely helpful. 75% of  US adults say they are avid users of social media. Presentations at DIA covered:

Want to explore some of the above topics? Have projects you’d like to discuss? Don’t hesitate to reach out.I look forward to hearing from you.

  • Reactions of customers to content posted on Facebook and Twitter – differ dramatically by country
  • Apps developed by commercial, links to Medical Information websites
  • Impact of apps developed to help patients track their medication
  • Using Twitter in Medical Information
  • Chat 

Recommendations for individuals wanting to embark on digital activities?  Before jumping in, make sure to involve your legal experts. If you plan to roll out globally take into account data privacy issues and individual country regulations. Collaborate very closely with your communications colleagues. Always expect that implementation will take longer than imagined.

I’d also recommend defining very clearly ahead of time what your ultimate goal is:  are you truly fulfilling a need, or are you creating a need? How will your resources be impacted going forward? What are the key benefits of implementing.

A question from the audience during a session: “Do HCPs actually use chat?” The response from the podium “A great question”. True. The response might well be:  it depends on your location, the HCP type, use of digital information channels, viable alternatives etc. Make sure you know before you start!

Topic 4:   Collaboration, cross-functional and trans-sector 

Collaboration and insights sharing across teams help increase effectiveness in a resource-constrained environment. Collaboration was a central topic of many presentations. In fact, the conference was kicked-off by an excellent keynote session by Dr. Anna Barker on Complexity, convergence and collaboration in Precision Medicine. Dr. Barker spoke of complex projects in the healthcare arena that would not have been possible without collaboration. One example mentioned was the Cancer Genome Atlas. Dr. Barker also spoke about the growing burden of health care, saying that in order to rise to the challenges ahead a new trans-sector collaborative approach is needed.

Topic 5:  Career Evolution, Development and Networking

At the European DIA Medical Communications Meeting in Berlin in 2016 I asked the audience to stand up if they had experienced any of the following in the past five years: A) Mergers and Acquisitions B) Outsourcing or geographic relocation of functions C) Reorganisations D) Downsizing E) Budget cuts. 

By the time I reached the end of the list more than 90% of the audience was standing.

The moral of the story? You may not seek change, but change will find you. This is why networking and planning your career are increasingly important.

Career development- it’s a journey not a sprint
The DIA meeting ended on a high note with the session on Career Development chaired by PPD’s David Bower.  Kay Uttech, Consultant, Suzana Giffin,Amgen, and Helle-Mai Gawyrlewski, JNJ, shared invaluable insights from their careers, with a lot of humour.

Want to explore some of the above topics? Have projects you’d like to discuss? Don’t hesitate to reach out.I look forward to hearing from you