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SANDRA OWENS, CEO, ScienceToLife & AccessOncology

If you have a science or science related degree, a PhD or experience in a related industry, you have already met the base level qualifications requirement for working in a research-focused team, such as medical affairs, in the life sciences industry.

The main objective of the medical affairs team is to strategically partner with the commercial and research roles within a company and become an integral team member across both. Each role provides different value for the life sciences organisation and contributes to access to medicines for patients.

Medical affairs and the pandemic

The pandemic has highlighted the importance of the medical affairs department within life sciences, as they play a key role in:

  • Educating the public and disseminating the correct information about pandemic and infection control
  • Sharing scientific insights about pandemic and progress to find a vaccine or treatment
  • Collaborating with investigators to repurpose available medicines and design clinical protocols
  • Transforming the way clinical trials are managed to accelerate outcomes in a safe and compliant manner
  • Spearheading the collaboration between academia, industry and government to manage the pandemic and develop a vaccine or treatment

Depending on where you live, medical affairs roles are growing at around 30 per cent, so this is a great opportunity to move into a high-growth industry segment.

Five medical affairs roles and their key responsibilities:

Medical Information:

A science or science related degree is usually required for this role, as well as a strong detail orientation, working with internal and external stakeholders in a thorough and organised manner.

  • Takes responsibility for handling medical information enquiries – both on label and off label
  • Provides approved responses to medical enquiries from external and internal customers including healthcare professionals and patients
  • Acts as a call handling agent as part of the Medical Information dedicated call centre
  • Prepares responses to enquiries based on research in the literature and global databases

Pharmacovigilance (PV):

A science or science related degree is usually required for this role as well as a love of structure, following guidelines and problem solving.

  • PV is defined as the science and activities relating to the detection, assessment, understanding and prevention of adverse effects or any other drug-related problems
  • The aim of PV is to enhance patient care and patient safety in relation to the use of medicines
  • PV is also responsible for supporting public health programmes by providing reliable, balanced information for the effective assessment of the risk-benefit profile of medicines

Medical Science Liaison (MSL):

A science degree or PhD is a typical requirement for this role as well as a love of communicating scientific data, collaborating and working outside of an office with regular travel involved.

  • MSLs are scientific professionals who provide information about their organisation’s products, such as medical devices, drugs and treatments
  • They typically represent their employer to key opinion leaders (KOLs), as well as to government regulatory and reimbursement agencies
  • They may conduct meetings with physicians and other medical professionals, participate in panel discussions and present to groups of health care professionals (HCPs). This occurs either virtually or in person
  • MSLs design and conduct studies that investigate both medical conditions and methods to prevent or treat them

Clinical Research Associate (CRA):

A science or science related degree is usually required for this role as well as strong attention to detail, project management skills and the ability work with health care professionals, usually on site in their hospitals. You will need to be able to handle unpredictable scenarios and love to travel.

Regulatory Affairs:

A science or science related degree is usually required for this role as well as a love of rigorous process, detail, analysis and working to deadlines.

  • The regulatory affairs associate is typically responsible for overseeing regulatory compliance
  • This may include representing the nation’s regulatory branch of the company at meetings and overseeing technical documentation
  • Preserving quality standards is the most important function of this job; this may include internal and external audits, as well as the development of reports related to performance metrics
  • Maintaining relevant databases and the appropriate information on any needed labeling (such as pharmaceutical labeling) for their company’s products

If you’re interested in a medical affairs role in life sciences but not sure which suits your preferences and skill set, use a decision-making tool like this one, to help you decide.

Eight important steps to help you secure a medical affairs role

Here are eight steps for you to consider in deciding the next course of action to secure a job in medical affairs in life sciences:

  1. Complete your science or science-related degree or PhD
  2. Build your online profile and professional brand – connect with medical affairs influencers online and get noticed in your therapy area of choice. Get up to speed with the current issues facing your chosen role – ensure you are ready to discuss them during interview. It’s also a good idea to share any interesting articles or research with your professional network. Optimise your profile and use relevant hastags!
  3. Understand your capabilities and preferences – use a decision tool like this one to help you understand which roles best suit your skill set.
  4. Link your current capabilities with the skills for the role you seek – having experience without experience is possible. For example, juggling all of the different aspects of your PhD delivery equates to prioritization skills and delivering under – these are transferrable skills – the same skills you will need for many medical affairs positions.
  5. Build a succinct and bespoke CV written specifically to match the role you seek – this CV Guide will help you.
  6. Complete a real-world course in life sciences and learn about the industry, language and roles so that you become an expert for your interview
  7. Improve your digital skill set, including virtual interviewing technique – you’ll find these remote interviewing blogs helpful
  8. Get networking – join a networking community for life sciences and speak to everyone you know connected to the is a great community for scientists while following #medicalaffairs on LinkedIn has many interesting posts and opportunities to connect and educate.

Life sciences is expanding its medical affairs roles due to increased expectations during the pandemic but also because of the need to deliver the expanding innovative medicines that are being approved every day across the globe.

The increasing responsibilities of medical affairs teams means that key roles have additional expectations and need additional headcount or some roles are new. Companies are planning for the future and with the increased interaction between organisations, the public and health care professionals, medical affairs teams are expanding to meet this burgeoning need. You could very well be the next successful recruit to join this growth trajectory – good luck!

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Sandra has worked in Senior Executive roles for Sanofi, AstraZeneca, Merck and Johnson & Johnson across the Asia Pacific Region, developing immunotherapies, biologics & targeted agents to early and successful in-market launch in the Asia Pacific Region.

She has a reputation as an effective and innovative leader with proven ability to build high performing teams and deliver strong P&L performance by developing collaborative partnerships between medical, patients, market access and commercial groups.

Sandra is also a mentor and educator, with a passion for inspiring people to reach beyond what they ever thought possible and then helping them get there.

“Life Sciences is an exciting and dynamic industry. The opportunity to educate people and encourage more talent to join us and create more life for patients, is my purpose.”



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