Evolving Role of Medical Affairs in Indian Pharma

Innovation of a drug is driven by scientific acumen, and the ability to sell the product effectively also significantly relies on scientific knowledge. So, is a strong marketing team equipped with compelling marketing skills sufficient to generate the desired outcome for a pharma product?

The concept of MA is seeping into the Indian Pharma industry, but most companies have not been able to identify the right Medical Affairs set up and how to utilise the workforce effectively.

Medical Affairs

A study by Best Practices, a management consultancy, shows that nearly 89% of pharma players in India have a dedicated MA team. Indian Pharma Companies that traditionally manufactured generic drugs, in the past decade, started venturing into branded pharma products.

And this massive change provoked the Union government to emphasize on stringent regulatory policies and influencing them to choose pharma products with scientific and social value. This welcoming culture in the healthcare fraternity has made the role of MA personnel pivotal. An MA team bridges the gap between the commercial and R & D departments of a pharma company.

Wider Stakeholder-base  

Gone are those days when the MA team of a pharma company would indulge in interactions only with doctors. With growing social healthcare campaigns and increasing awareness among patients, the MA teams will have to engage with population health clinicians , doctors, key opinion leaders, payers, pharmacists, public administrators, advocacy groups and patients. This throws an opportunity to MA teams in Indian Pharma companies as the scope of visibility for a pharma product will increase with the larger audience.

Challenges Galore

Associate with R & D

According to a study, more than half of Indian pharma companies’ MA teams associate themselves with the commercial team. On the other hand, pharma players in the West prefer to have their MA team associate with the R & D department. The coordination with both the teams is imperative for MA, but the key lies in staying closer to the R & D as it will portray the seriousness of the brand in developing the product, and at the same time have scientifically-backed conversations with doctors.

Effective Planning

Playing pivotal role in the organization, MA teams will not only have chalk-out best-suited strategies, but will also have to be on their toes to implement them. MA teams need to constantly monitor the outcomes and analyze them to improve their strategy.

Regulatory Compliance

Pharma brands are no longer keen on measuring their outcomes based on volumes. Regulatory pressure and the persistence from doctors in asking for value-based products, has propelled pharma companies to evolve, and measure their outcomes based on value. The MA team will come into play in judging and defining what ‘value’ means for every product.

Updated About Scientific Information

Science- based communication would form the crux of pharma-physician relationship in the coming years, and sooner pharma players realize this, the better it will be. Time is at dearth for doctors, and hence they struggle to keep themselves updated with the latest scientific developments. MA teams can help doctors apprise with the scientific information, and to do this, the MA personnel will have to have these information on their fingertips. Evidence-based medicine is what doctors want to prescribe today. MA teams can provide this evidence scientifically.

As Indian Pharma strives for drug discovery and innovation, investigator-initiated trials/ studies (IITs/ IIS) will assume huge importance. MA team will play a key role in successful execution of these trials. These trial results are another key factor supporting evidence-based medicine.

Data is the Driver

In the age of digitization, data is at everybody’s disposal. Pharma Companies should utilize data to their advantage and evolve strategies to publicise their products. Data will help MA teams to understand the requirements of the various stakeholders. Most pharma companies sit on a large chunk of data and are not able to utilize them strategically. MA teams will have to read and realize the data, and devise specific strategies.

Health Economics and Outcomes Research (HEOR) will play a significant role in a drug gaining acceptance and approval. With varying interests of every stakeholder, it is essential for MA personnel to understand product value in the healthcare space and its potential in clinical practice.

Multiple Roles but Lack of Personnel

MA team today are a sophisticated unit with varied functions. From developing and maintaining relationships with the doctors and other entities of the healthcare community, to devising strategies  for the new drugs, MA team will play an integral role. With these diverse functions in demand, it has become a meticulous task for pharma companies to hire the right personnel.

One challenge is also ill-defined reporting relationships, due to evolving roles, the structure, workflows, processes of the MA department needs to be re-examined, maybe lower the administrative burden to allow them to focus on more important tasks

Technology will be the Supporter

Technological disruption has changed the dynamics of the world, and it has invariably become a crucial tool in every business today. Pharma companies have to invest in right amounts at the right time in the right technology to support the activities of MA. Technology will also help break down silos between departments and help better information exchange. A  study points out that nearly 37% of the MA funds are utilized for medical/clinical research, and 18% on medical education. A significant portion of the MA expenditure should be on technological infrastructure which will equip them to execute their strategies effectively. MA teams Besides providing the right technological support, pharma companies will also have to measure the outcomes from the technology, and keep updating it.

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Digital Solutions

The digital space is the new arena for communication. The foremost activity of the MA team is to communicate. With paucity of time, doctors do not show willingness to meet marketing professionals. However, you will see a large section of the community using their mobile phone to gather information. This is where digital platforms can come into play. The MA team can develop digital content backed with latest scientific data for instant, anytime access by doctors.

Given the busy life of doctors, digital connect can engage them into continuous dialogue with MA teams. A well-crafted content strategy that enables MA teams to break down complex scientific information, traditionally presented in longer forms into shorter, more attractive content formats will determine the success of pharma-physician communications. A constant connect across multiple touchpoints could also help gain doctors’ trust.

Developing trust is the most sensitive role of an MA team as it is the trust that will improve their engagement with doctors. One way which MA teams could instil trust is by showcasing their constant engagements with KOLs (Key Opinion Leaders). If a KOL trusts the MA team of a pharma company, then the doctors’ fraternity is most likely to show trust on the MA team and consequently, on the company’s offerings.

Digital platforms will also be big source of data for the MA teams. Constantly monitoring the discussions by the doctors will help them generate quantitative and qualitative insights, which indeed will form basis for the future strategies, for both marketing, and R & D.

Be Future Ready

Medical Affairs team will be the face of Indian pharma companies in coming years. It is imperative that leaders make their MA teams future ready. The key is to understand the opportunities, identify the problem areas and take the right steps to empower them at the earliest.

(Read about how Medical Affairs is becoming the rising star of pharma communications here)


Docplexus – Pharma’s Trusted Marketing Partner
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