by Laura C Collada Ali – Medical Writing & Scientific Manager, MedDev Day Scientific Coordinator at LS Academy
Medical Affairs is the strategic face of the company, be it a pharmaceutical company or a medical device manufacturer. It is a function that has taken on a new dimension in recent years, following the significant revolution in the life sciences world. Innovation in digital technologies and biological sciences is evolving at lightning speed, bringing with it an unprecedented amount of data.
Between 2017 and 2018, Medical Affairs professionals produced 90% of the total amount of data ever existed(1). There are 2.5 quintillion bytes of data created each day at our current pace(2). Still, knowing the amount of data created every day means nothing if we don’t know how to use it strategically. This imposes an urgent need to put the ability to understand, analyse, process, and communicate scientific data back at the company’s heart.
Within this context, one of the most complex professional challenges for the Medical Affairs – or similar functions – is the need to quickly produce scientific (non-clinical) data that can be used for corporate communication. Data may be out there, but we still need to learn how to leverage it properly.
We discussed about it with Federico Marchetti, Medical Lead at GSK and trainer of the workshop “How to Generate Non-Clinical Data and Transfer Scientific Content in a Short time? Elementary, my dear Watson!” [run in italian]
Federico, the timing of clinical research seems to be out of sync with the timing of company communication needs. What can professionals do to face this problem?
That is right. The best, and most well-known, way of meeting objectives is forward planning and setting internal timelines so that cross-functional teams work on a Gant-like process.
However, nowadays there are so many opportunities to generate and communicate new data that, in principle, even if a request comes out unexpectedly, we may most of the times find a doable solution. Of course, this implies a certain degree of creative thinking and flexibility. As a trainer, I do my best to transfer this positive message and provide practical examples to whoever needs to put in place a data generation program or a post-market surveillance plan.
The title of the course refers to the investigative approach of Sherlock Holmes. He talked about selecting furniture to stock in our attic, aka our mind. The character, indeed, makes the following statement: “A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skilful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic.”
Did you take your cue from that?
Sherlock Holmes is a fascinating character to me, because he encompasses both, extraordinary mental capability, and cultural knowledge. He packs a lot of information into his head, and he must be ready to draw out those details as he makes his deductions and solves the most mysterious of mysteries. In contrast, he gets bored by routine life; he needs crimes to solve to go back to action and feel alive.
Just as an example of what I mean, the Holmes in Sherlock, the BBC/Masterpiece program, the scriptwriters gifted the character with a talent for a mnemonic ability straight out of ancient Greece—the mind palace (also known as ‘method of loci’)(3). To use the technique, visualize a complex place in which you could physically store a set of memories. That place is often a building such as a house, but it can also be something like a road with multiple addresses, a park, etc.. In the house version, every room is home to a specific item you want to remember. When those memories need to be recalled, you can walk through the building in your mind, seeing and remembering each item.
We may certainly transpose this theory into our daily work, where we need to leverage non clinical data to support our products in the market. Thinking outside the box to offer new solutions to internal teams and at the same time listening and implementing their own innovative ideas that they may have not been considered in their plans before.
«Tell me to what you pay attention,
and I will tell you who you are»
Jose Ortega y Gasset
Let’s come to you as a professional. In terms of work-life and passions, what are you enthusiastic about?
I very much enjoy supporting the development of vaccines, regardless their point in time within their life- cycle. I like interacting with the scientific community and receiving feedback from external experts which helps me better shape medical development plans. Furthermore, going through the filter of peer-reviewed journals, ensuring that only high-quality data gets published is both challenging and fascinating.
Let’s now explore the work-life challenges and dilemmas you face daily.
The main challenge that I see every day in my job is to contribute to the development of vaccines overcoming people (or health care providers) hesitancy or scepticism. Even though the COVID19 pandemic has made much more evident the value of immunization programs around the world, much work is still needed before every new-born benefits from all the healthcare opportunities offered by routine vaccinations. Vaccine hesitancy is complex and context specific, varying across time, place and vaccines.
Mainly, the challenge is to to retrieve and collate appropriate data and provide information about hesitant populations, determinants of hesitancy and outcomes of research on the topic. This may allow to address hesitant populations’ concerns and respond appropriately. Improving the decision-making process of doctors and patients is an important driver in our life sciences world!
We mentioned a great author like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Would you suggest another author that you consider relevant for the Medical Affairs mindset?
As a “supporter of innovation”, I tend to prefer scientific publications from medical journals rather than books or manuals. Thus, periodically consulting search engines like PubMed may provide you with interesting reviews on Medical Affairs roles like the one by Bedenkov A et al. (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32949352/) or future looking papers in the Medical Affairs evolution, like the one from Furtner D et al (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34970723/).
Since you have this highly developed skill of observation and analysis, would you give us an opinion on our Academy?
In my view, LS Academy is a very forward-looking company. A group of talented professionals for whom the human touch comes at first. This is something almost tangible when working with the Academy as a trainer; they analyse any new idea for a new workshop very carefully and critically – always having their audience’s needs in mind. It is clear they have strong listening skills, and they value both, trainers and participants; thus creating a synch that is difficult to find elsewhere.