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Medical Affairs was conceptualized in a primarily executional role, closely linked with an organization’s sales function. Now, as Medical Affairs has become the organization’s voice of scientific expertise and in a climate of increased patient-centricity and increased scrutiny, Medical Affairs has taken on an increasingly strategic role. Here MAPS speaks with Ariel Katz, co-founder and CEO of H1, about the future of the function and the factors driving the current pace of change.
MAPS: We talk about COVID driving change in Medical Affairs, but even before COVID and presumably continuing after, there are other factors fueling change, as well. What do you see as some of these societal and technological changes propelling the function forward?
Ariel: First, science and medicine are becoming more complex and with this increased complexity, physicians and payors need Medical Affairs to translate all this information. When medicine was simple, its use was fairly simple. Now as medicine becomes more complex and you have more clinical studies, more peer reviewed literature, you need more conversations and more education around it. Medical Affairs is there to educate and fill that gap about the latest therapy and the best clinical practice.
MAPS: Has this increased need for education around complex medicines changed only the scale of Medical Affairs activities or has it also forced Medical Affairs to change the way we do things?
Ariel: I remember the first year MAPS had a conference, the big buzzword was social media. Driven in part by new technologies, everyone was trying to realize how to engage with physicians on social media. Now one big change in the way Medical Affairs does things is we’ve expanded our audiences past healthcare providers. There are new stakeholders: Parents, advocacy groups, nurses, office coordinators, everyone.
MAPS: You speak about generating insights from social media as if it were solved?
Ariel: I think there’s two things that people were interested in with social media. One was finding digital opinion leaders – the top healthcare professionals that have a large following on social media. And then the other one is understanding what’s being spoken about on social media to drive your Medical Affairs strategies. And I would say both of those are on the precipice of being standard practice . You’re seeing a lot of solutions out there from companies like H1 and others that have developed solutions to answer those problems for Medical Affairs teams. In five years, we’re not going to be talking about social media insights, because it’s going to be “solidly” solved. I see it happening today where the technology is all available now to be used and it’s just a matter of adoption.
MAPS: If not social media, what will we be talking about in the future of Medical Affairs? What isn’t solved?
Ariel: So, when I think about Medical Affairs, there’s three pillars in my head: What are my Medical strategies? Who are the stakeholders I should be educating and what do they need to know? And is my education working? The piece that’s really been missing is understanding the impact of Medical Affairs. And when I look at this year’s upcoming MAPS conference in 2022, a lot of it is about the impact of Medical Affairs – it feels like the same energy I felt around social media a few years ago. In the future, demonstrating the impact of Medical Affairs is going to be solved; there’s going to be a way to understand whether your communication and education is actually reaching the right stakeholders and changing clinical practice for the better of patients. Also, in the future, Medical Affairs will be able to identify educational gaps and even gaps in understanding for individual HCPs. What if I told you 50% of oncologists in the U.S. don’t understand how to best prescribe a new oncology treatment. That’s interesting and I guarantee the company that developed the treatment will want to educate doctors about it.
MAPS: It’s about more than just waiting for questions and then answering them…
Ariel: If you speak to any C-suite at any top-20 pharma company, they’re going to tell you that Medical Affairs used to be a data dissemination engine, but now it’s becoming a data generation engine for their business. For example, MSL insights drive changes in studies, drive changes in strategy – when you understand what the gaps are, Medical Affairs has the potential to become that data generation engine driving company-level strategy.
MAPS: Well, let’s go back to impact then. If Medical Affairs is changing to a data generation function, how are we going to show the impact of that?
Ariel: Let’s make up a case study together. Say Keytruda is best used for patients that are 85 to 95 years old, experiencing non-small cell lung cancer and the way it should be used in the community is in combination with chemotherapy. So, first of all, you want to know how many oncologists don’t understand that and as a result, are using it incorrectly. Y ou can do that by looking at real world data, so that you know who the Medical Affairs team should chat with. A fter you chat with those people, you can see if your education is working by looking at whether physicians are using treatments more appropriately and effectively. It’s not just about prescriptions – you can track the use of drugs in a compliant way.
MAPS: This sounds like a significant opportunity. Where does Medical Affairs go with this opportunity? Where do you see Medical Affairs in 2030?
Ariel: Eight years ago, it was all about whether Medical Affairs would have a seat at the table. Now that we’re at the table, it’s about what questions Medical Affairs helps to ask and what decisions we help drive: What phase four studies should the organization be running? How do we think about trial design? How do we think about the patient experience, or about the provider experience? Nobody else has access to that information besides Medical Affairs, especially pre-approval. At some of the larger pharma companies, we’re seeing 20-30% of Medical Affairs teams being involved when there’s a product ready to start a phase three study. That was never the case before. And we see Medical Affairs collaborating across functions, for example, MSLs are the best people to identify who would be a good trialist and we see discussions with clinical counterparts to help drive strategy around this. We’ll have to chat again in 2030 and see how many of these predictions come true!