“Data doesn’t exist until it is published,” says Renu Juneja, co-lead of the MAPS Medical Communication (MedComm) Focus Area Working Group (FAWG). With an ever-increasing volume of publishable data and an expanding array of both traditional and innovative outlets in which to publish, the Medical Communications function within Medical Affairs is growing into a progressively more strategic role across multiple platforms and all phases of the product lifecycle. Here MAPS speaks with MedComm FAWG co-leads Renu Juneja, Head, Scientific Evidence & Communications, Oncology Medical Affairs, Janssen, and Fatima Ahmad, Head of Medical Communications, Spark Therapeutics, about innovations and future directions for Medical Communications within Medical Affairs.
MAPS: It seems like Medical Communications used to be all about journal publication – can you tell us about the function’s expanding activities and roles?
Renu: Yes, it’s more than just publication. We are focused on not just how do you publish data, but once it is published, then what? How do you communicate it through various Medical Affairs channels? How does data sit within the Integrated Medical Communications Strategic Plan? Once data is published in a peer-reviewed journal, we work to ensure that data is being communicated in a compliant way through Med Info, Medical Education, through Medical Science Liaisons, managed care dossiers, Press releases and many additional outlets.
MAPS: It’s almost as if you’re speaking through each outlet to a distinct audience…
Fatima: Publication strategy is one of several elements of an overarching and integrated Medical Communications Strategy that informs the communication of objective and balanced scientific information to the HCP community, with the goal to address educational gaps and create awareness around an asset/product or disease state. This is a holistic and intentional approach to effectively communicate a consistent Scientific Narrative across multiple platforms such as congresses, symposia and publications to the relevant HCP audience.
MAPS: With all these outlets and all these data, how can a Medical Communications team ensure that relevant scientific data reaches the appropriate HCP audience?
Renu: There are 6,000 publications coming out every day; the literature is doubling every 64 days. One way to make publications stand out is to understand how our audiences are finding information. Now, most doctors are going on Google to search for information, meaning that Communications teams need to treat publications like any other searchable content, with the right keywords for SEO, as discussed in the MedComm FAWG’s recent webinar on the topic.
Fatima: We’re also doing more with any single publication. We call this audience amplification – for example, wherever a journal allows, utilizing options for featuring manuscripts with additional media, such as submitting a manuscript with a short video by one of the authors summarizing the results of the study. Medical Communications also focuses on how to visualize data with infographics, video abstracts and other formats.
Renu: I’ve started saying, “the pubs are the hub.” (I should get some sort of copyright for that term…) And radiating from this hub are many spokes, including those previously mentioned and also things like submitting the publications for consideration for being included in NCCN guidelines in Oncology, or submitting for formulary changes. It’s a multi-channel, multi-audience, multi-purpose approach in which the publication is only the start.
MAPS: It seems like this audience amplification and “pubs are the hub” approach would necessarily involve many more partners within and outside Medical Affairs.
Fatima: Yes, Medical Communications is increasingly being recognized as integral strategic thought partners with Medical Directors/Therapeutic Area Leaders and other subfunctions within Medical Affairs, as we are responsible for developing the Scientific Communications Strategy and Plan, which evolves as preclinical/clinical program(s) progress and mature. The cross-functional planning process allows Med Comms to integrate with Medical Strategy, Med Info, Field Medical Affairs and other functions to develop an overarching plan for data communication across multiple channels. It is an iterative process and also includes incorporating insights from the field to evolve the plan.
MAPS: From the organizational perspective, is there a place for Medical Communications teams to support the development of scientific materials that may be helpful to a patient audience?
Fatima: This is an important consideration, especially in the context of novel therapeutic modalities and rare disease where patients are an engaged and often well-informed audience. While Medical Communications does not directly engage with patients, there are several ways the function can support appropriate patient education. One way is through the development of plain language summaries that can accompany a scientific peer-reviewed journal article. Another way is through collaborating with the Patient Advocacy function that does directly interact with patients and advocacy groups, and ensure consistency/alignment across content developed for HCPs and patients. In this way both sets of stakeholders are appropriately informed to engage in dialogue around shared decision-making.
MAPS: It’s not just who we are communicating to, but who is doing the communicating that’s changing, as well, right?
Renu: Correct. With technology and social media, often study authors are involved in communicating their own data. The first or last author are not only presenting the data at scientific congresses like ASCO or ASH, but also tweet about it or discuss at other social medial platforms. Now Medical Affairs teams are also looking at digital opinion leaders – which of a study’s authors are active on social media?
MAPS: It’s so much more than just any one communications tactic!
Renu: That’s why Medical Communications is becoming more and more an integral strategic partner of the overall Medical Affairs deliverables. Really, it’s becoming less about how many studies we can publish in peer-reviewed journals and more about how HCPs are accessing and engaging with this new information. Our actions are still tactical but are designed from a more strategic perspective. The opportunity for Medical Communications within Medical Affairs is to continue looking at our actions not from the perspective of what we do but why we do it. At the end of the day, Medical Communications ensures that healthcare providers and patients can derive the most benefit from emerging treatments.
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The Innovate article series highlights the ideas of Medical Affairs thought leaders from across the biopharmaceutical and MedTech industries. To submit your article for consideration, please contact MAPS Communications Director, Garth Sundem.