What's your job about?
The medical affairs team at Novartis is responsible for developing scientific engagement strategies to better understand the therapeutic area and ensure the quality use of medicine.
The MSL is a field-based medical affairs role, and a big part of what we do is discuss the latest clinical data with the medical experts to understand how the data will translate into clinical practice. We also work in cross-functional teams to help deliver insights from the field, which ultimately helps to build and verify the launch strategy.
It’s important to note the MSL role is non-promotional, and the primary focus is on unlicensed compounds.
My daily work generally involves planning and preparing for medical expert meetings, staying updated on new developments in the therapeutic area, and absorbing as much information as I can! So when I’m not in field, I spend a lot of time reading and watching video recordings of key speakers…it’s fun I promise.
If I had to describe my job to a 10 year old, I would say it’s a bit like being a detective. You do your research, ask interesting questions about the compounds and uncover any problems to allow timely access to patients once they are available.
What's your background?
I grew up in regional Victoria until I was 8 years old, spending a lot of time reading science books. Even as a little kid I was curious about cause-and-effect, I turned my closet into a “science lab” where I’d mix a household chemicals I found under the sink in “beaker” glasses (I don’t recommend doing this).
Needless to say, in uni I upgraded to real labs where we would test how drug compounds affected cells and real body tissue. Our supervisors always challenged us to think outside the box – we’d have journal clubs and discuss crazy questions like “is it possible to create a memory-wiping drug for PTSD”. I chose neuroscience as my major because there is still so much we don’t know about brains and it’s exciting to explore the unknown.
Alongside my studies, I worked as a medical receptionist and was also involved in a few volunteer service projects. It was actually while I was overseas on a medical project in the Philippines where I met a lovely Novartis associate who told me about their first-ever graduate program.
I had never considered working for a pharmaceuticals company before, I thought my future was set on either research or clinical practice. But I was intrigued by the idea of working somewhere in between the two, where you could help bridge the gap between science and the application. I spent 18 wonderful months in the graduate program before starting as an MSL in 2021.
Could someone with a different background do your job?
Yes and no…having a scientific background definitely helps but in saying this, I’ve met and heard of some awesome MSLs who never did a science degree. The medical affairs team brings together a great mix of people from a variety of backgrounds, so it’s super important for us to bring our diverse perspectives to the group. Some key attributes include communication and presentation skills, as well as a strong understanding of the drug development process and the Australian Healthcare System.
What's the coolest thing about your job?
I love seeing a novel idea turn from science-fiction into reality. There are very intelligent researchers working tirelessly on concepts that may or may not be successful, and it’s such a privilege to bring their work to clinicians where it can change the lives of patients.
What are the limitations of your job?
The hardest time I can recall is when a clinical trial failed to meet its endpoint. Although this is rare, not all clinical trials will be successful. So whilst you should put your energy into preparing for a positive data result, there is always a chance you won’t see an outcome to your work. It’s disappointing for all involved but this is the reality of research!
Another limitation is that MSLs do travel quite a bit (although we are travelling less now due to the pandemic). Those who aren’t in a position to be mobile should
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