Drug Companies Increasingly Use Medical Science Liaisons
The Wall Street Journal reports that drug companies are increasingly using medical science liaisons: "Pharmaceutical companies are barred by the Food and Drug Administration from promoting unapproved drug uses, called off-label use, but they are using employees called 'medical science liaisons,' who are often physicians and pharmacists, as a legal way to discuss those uses. Medical science liaisons, who are considered medical rather than sales staff, have greater freedom than salespeople as they visit doctors offices to discuss the science behind a medicine, including unapproved uses." It notes: "The FDA requires traditional sales reps to refer information requests to their employers' medical or scientific staff, MSLs are usually on those staffs."
The Journal reports: "Though still small, the number of MSLs has increased steadily, totaling 1,970 in 2008, up 48% from 1,335 in 2003, according to data for 12 major pharmaceutical and biotech companies compiled by PharmaForce International, a market-research firm. Partial numbers for 2009 indicate a decline to 1,640, but Sean McCrae, an executive at PharmaForce, says that number is 'an aberration,' reflecting across-the-board cuts in the industry. And companies appear to still be hiring MSLs: The online job-search site Monster.com lists many MSL job postings. At the same time, drug makers have been cutting their conventional sales forces. By the end of 2008, the number of U.S. sales reps had dropped to 90,000 from a peak of about 106,000 in 2006, according to ZS Associates, a consulting firm."
The Journal notes that "the drug companies themselves argue that their medical-science and sales forces have different functions." It also adds that: "MSLs generally make at least 50% more than primary-care sales reps, who are paid an average of $86,000, including bonus" (Wang, 6/26).