MSLs: Educating docs about off-label uses?

While Big Pharma has been cutting back its traditional sales staffs, companies appear to be deploying a greater number of medical science liaisons, or MSLs. As the Wall Street Journal reports today, MSLs visit doctors' offices like reps do, they're not bound to the same rules--especially when it comes to off-label uses. MSLs may focus on talking about the science behind various meds, but unlike regular old sales reps, they can openly support uses not approved by the FDA.

If that system seems ripe for abuse, some MSLs agree; one woman told the Journal that she quit her MSL job because she was asked to work more closely with that company's sales department than she considered appropriate. In some cases, MSLs feel "pressured to do more for the sales team," she said.

Companies, however, said that MSLs perform entirely different functions from sales reps. Novartis, which fields a large MSL force, told the paper that its MSLs aren't incentivized like sales people, for instance. And MSLs have more specialized training; they're often doctors or pharmacists. They're able to dig deeply into trial data, one MSL chief points out, and answer doctors' technical questions. 

- read the WSJ story