Eye-to-eye With Physicians
The medical scientific cooperation between the pharmaceutical industry and the medical profession has recently been increasing in significance. For this reason, the position of Medical Science Liaison Manager was created at Roche Pharma AG. The team is responsible for the scientific communication with the treating physicians and is organized by Dr. Doris Schwindt. In the interview, the medical doctor reports on the approach, successes and her own career.
Dr. Schwindt, what are your current tasks at Roche?
I organize and lead the Medical Science Liaison Managers, MSLs in short. The Medical Science Liaison Team has been in place for three years and is responsible for the scientific communication with the treating physicians in terms of our products and clinical drug trials. The knowledge and insights gained should be exploited by Roche, in order to benefit the development of the medications. The discussions with the physicians occur without any commercial interest and are, therefore, non-promotional.
Explain the advantages of this collaboration.
Supporting the trial programs through dialog and education is one of the core activities of the MSLs. It is a matter of communicating the value and illustrating the purpose of our studies appropriately to the physicians. In addition, it is necessary to inform the physicians why and which patients should be recruited for the respective trial. All parties involved benefit from the networking of the company with the treating physicians via the MSLs. It is also important to discuss already published data and to understand the assessment.
How did your career develop within the company?
I initially started in the medical department, after that I began working in the marketing department, in the team for early product development and in the field force. I have worked in and gotten to know many positions here at Roche. I really like communicating and working with people, but I am also analytical. It is very important to me to apply results in practice and not just work theoretically. Even before my current position, I led teams. As the Head of Marketing, I was responsible for the product managers and assistants and for our subject specialists as the Head of the Field Force. After coordinating the field force, I then became the Head of the Medical Science Liaison Managers. I appreciate it when my employees have different competencies and complement the team. The MSLs have a high level of expertise, a background in medical science and years of experience with clinical drug development.
That is not the typical career path when one studies medicine. How did your training progress?
I studied medicine in Gießen and then completed my training and doctorate in dermatology at the RWTH Aachen and the University of California San Francisco.
Why did you choose to study medicine in the first place?
My interest in people motivated me. I have indeed moved a small distance away from the patients, but the fact that I can still indirectly come into contact with them through the development of medications makes up for it.
How did you come to the pharmaceutical industry and to Roche in particular?
After my studies in Aachen, the first steps on my career path led me to the pharmaceutical sector. That was over 15 years ago. In the USA, I gained insights into the interactions between the clinics and the pharmaceutical industry. All of my colleagues there were engaged in projects that extended into the pharmaceutical industry. My doctoral supervisor at the time in the USA also had extensive experience and contacts, so the sector was an obvious choice as a potential field for me. I then intentionally cast my net wide and, sent out applications to a broad range of research institutes and corporations, including Roche Pharma. I immediately received a number of offers – and the one from Roche was the most attractive.
What do you especially like about Roche?
I like the broad range of activities and opportunities. At the time, clinical operations seemed, especially after my experience in the USA, relatively narrow and hierarchical. The pharmaceutical industry is particularly diverse and provides corresponding opportunities: whether in research and development, production, marketing or sales. Working in a commercial enterprise that provides such a scope seemed very appealing to me. However, what is always decisive is: Can you identify with the company and its medications? With Roche I absolutely can.
What can the company offer you with respect to your personal development?
Roche is a company, which considers the development of its employees as important; whether it is a career in the company or an ‘on the job’ development. Roche supports employees, who want to develop themselves, have potential and are open to change. It is, of course, also possible to start a career at Roche, for example, in drug safety and to stay there for many years. In addition, at Roche we have a very high ethical standard, which we have to fulfill. We have a vision and every employee is committed to it. It states: ‘Doing now what patients need next.’ We work for the benefit of the patients. That is our goal.
Let us come back to the Medical Science Liaison Managers, the MSLs. They seem to represent a new development. What exactly is their function?
The MSL is the medical science contact partner for physicians and experts. Each concentrates on one therapeutic area and overviews all medications. They answer questions about the efficacy and safety of our drugs, and, in particular about our new developments. They discuss newly published data and oversee our clinical trial program. The MSL is also the first contact for the discussion of research projects. The MSL works outside on the spot, so to say in the field. However, they are not responsible for one individual product, but overview the entire portfolio within an application area. For the application area against breast cancer they would, for example, have to overview four medications. The MSL knows the profile of all of these products and is, in addition, aware of what is in development.
So the MSLs are in constant contact with the respective physicians. What is their benefit for the company?
We see an added value in our medications being correctly and safely applied. In addition, we believe that it is important to make the knowledge resulting from the depth of the discussions accessible to us. It is also important that the clinical investigators understand the rationale for our trials and gain precise knowledge of the test substances.
Do the MSLs sometimes have to safeguard against the physicians using the medications too early or incorrectly?
Education is, of course, an important topic. When patients are in very bad shape, desperate situations arise, in which physicians ask: ‘Which medication could also help my patients? Is there any data and has it already been tested?’ When we saw how effective the medication Herceptin was for breast cancer, I got calls asking whether there was any data regarding the application for ovarian cancer. I then had to explain that it hadn’t yet been tested in a registration trial and call attention to the fact that it had neither been developed by us for that purpose nor had it been released by the authorities. Our job, in such cases, is to say: ‘Please not for this disease. There is not yet any data for this area of application.’
And is the program a success?
Our MSL Organization has existed for nearly three years and we have seen that the physicians are satisfied with the conveyed knowledge. Recently, the physicians were polled on how they assess the advantages of an MSL and how informative the discussions are. We received very positive feedback and believe we are on track, especially in oncology, where the flow of information is of great importance. Due to the innovative nature of the Medical Science Liaison Managers, it is very important for us that the physicians understand which function the MSLs have. After all, they constitute a relatively new job profile
Grenzach, the headquarters of Roche in Germany, is not exactly a metropolis. What is it like for you to live in the region?
I read a sign once that Grenzach is in the heart of Europe. That made me laugh at first, but it’s really true. Italy, Switzerland, the Alsace and the Black Forest are only a short trip away. Basel, Zürich and Freiburg are very close and also the skiing areas are, at the most, an hour away. I am also a mother of two. I can reconcile family and work, since Roche offers family-friendly working models. For example, after my children were born, I only worked three days a week full-time. For customer visits and events in the field, it is simply more advantageous. Besides, home-office is also an option at Roche. That can all be resolved and arranged very well with the team.
You obviously don’t regret your decision to enter the pharmaceutical sector...
My tasks are very fulfilling and I always had a lot of opportunities to realize my potential and my ideas. I have always had the luck to be able to work on the development of drugs, which were either outstanding in nature or had an exceptional application. It is exciting for me to accompany these drugs all the way to their approval and to experience the great benefit that we provide to the patients with our products. At Roche, I have development opportunities and creative leeway, can make a difference and introduce good ideas. That is certainly part of what constitutes my commitment here at Roche.
This article appeared in the 2/2015 issue of the magazine arzt & karriere.
arzt & karriere is published by the Evoluzione Media AG publishing house.