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The Latest Trend in Global Pharma: Transforming MSLs into ISL role. How to be Ready for That?

Author: Natalia Denisova, PhD
VP, Head of Medical Affairs, MphaR

Since its inception in 1967, the role of Medical Science Liaisons (MSLs) has progressively evolved from being information-centric to a more dynamic and strategic engagement. The global pharmaceutical industry is also observing a transformative shift in the role of Medical Science Liaisons (MSLs), marked by their expanding involvement in clinical trials. Previously, the role of MSLs was limited to the traditional launch phase, but now, pharmaceutical companies often seek expertise from MSLs in supporting clinical trials investigators in Phase 1 and Phase 2. However, with this expansion comes new challenges. Although MSLs have significant knowledge and training, they are not generally equipped with specific expertise to support clinical trial investigators.

This article explores the pivotal transition of MSLs into Investigator Science Liaisons (ISLs) and addresses how specialized programs for MSLs can support this transition.

MSLs Role Description (description, importance, and history)

Medical Science Liaisons (MSLs) are integral to the pharmaceutical industry as they are key facilitators between pharmaceutical companies and key opinion leaders (KOLs). Primarily, MSLs are responsible for providing scientific and medical information and educational support to healthcare providers, contributing significantly to the successful introduction and understanding of new therapies. Through in-depth discussions, meetings, and other modes of communication, they deliver accurate and advanced scientific knowledge about a company’s products. Moreover, MSLs gather valuable insights and feedback based on real-world clinical settings. These insights provide a real-world review of the products, which can help reshape future research endeavors. In short, MSLs foster a bridging connection of scientific integrity between KOLs and the pharmaceutical industry.

The historical evolution of the MSL role is quite interesting. Initially, sales representatives were primarily responsible for conveying product information to HCPs. However, they faced challenges building rapport with KOLs due to limited scientific training. In 1967, Upjohn Pharmaceuticals first introduced MSLs to meet these challenges. MSL teams usually had individuals with various scientific backgrounds, including those with advanced degrees like MD, PhD, or Pharm D. Their scientific background, equipped with advanced scientific training, led the pharmaceutical industry successfully over the years.

Since 1967, the role of MSLs has evolved significantly from a marketing perspective to a scientific ambassador of a pharmaceutical company. In doing so, the industry has also undergone a transformative journey spanning approximately two decades to effectively understand and refine the training and capabilities of MSLs. This historical context highlights the industry’s commitment to adapting and optimizing the role of MSLs, reflecting their increasing strategic importance.

Still, MSLs’ role in the pharmaceutical industry is evolving according to the needs of the industry and the scientific abilities of MSLs. Today, their role in phase 1 and 2 of clinical trials seems limited despite their prominent role during phase 3 and post­approval stages. Specific knowledge and training of MSLs about the initial stages of clinical trials is required first to offer their support to clinical investigators.

ISLs Pole

Investigator Science Liaisons (ISLs) refer to MSLs who specialize in supporting investigators involved in clinical trials. Where traditional MSLs focus on pre-and early launch phases, ISLs provide scientific support and facilitate communication between investigators and pharmaceutical companies. In addition to their roles as MSLs, they ensure a seamless exchange of information and resources during all the stages of clinical trials. Here’s a brief overview of ISLs’ role in the global pharmaceutical industry.

Role of ISLs in the pharmaceutical industry
Establish a relationship between clinical investigators and pharmaceutical companies to support scientific support.
Support clinical investigators and keep them in liaison with leading experts.
Collect real-time insights from the clinical investigators.
Bring scientific expertise about current treatment practice and profile physician practices, their needs, and preferences.

Trends in Pharma and Evolving Pharmaceutical Landscape

The evolution of the pharmaceutical industry from relying on sales representatives to the emergence of MSLs illustrates a pivotal transition. Initially discovered as marketing professionals with scientific knowledge, MSLs have seen a remarkable journey of approximately two decades to understand and refine their training methodologies. The modern trend extends beyond their traditional role of supporting drug launches; companies increasingly utilize MSLs for active participation in clinical trials.

The evolution of the pharmaceutical industry from relying on sales representatives to the emergence of MSLs illustrates a pivotal transition. Initially discovered as marketing professionals with scientific knowledge, MSLs have seen a remarkable journey of approximately two decades to understand and refine their training methodologies. The modern trend extends beyond their traditional role of supporting drug launches; companies increasingly utilize MSLs for active participation in clinical trials.

This approach ensures the synergistic utilization of MSLs’ and ISLs1 expertise, propelling advancements in medical research and therapeutic interventions. The evolving role of MSLs, coupled with strategic training initiatives, solidifies their position as key contributors to the success of both drug launches and clinical trials in the global pharmaceutical landscape.

Why is it essential to train MSLs in the ISL role?

The expanding role of MSLs in clinical trials makes it imperative to train them accordingly, preparing them to embrace the ISL role in the pharmaceutical industry.

Helps in understanding in-depth Clinical trials

Specialized training programs ensure ISLs understand clinical trials, including their study design, regulatory requirements, and the overall trial development process. Focused training about clinical trials makes ISLs ready to collaborate positively with clinical investigators, establishing a connection between pharmaceutical companies and investigators.

Equips ISLs with knowledge about site selection, feasibility, and SIVs

Supporting clinical investigators in site selection and feasibility assessments is one of the critical roles of ISLs. Specialized training of MSLs can prepare them to conduct thorough evaluations and develop site plans required for trial. Furthermore, these training programs familiarize MSLs with trial protocols, consent documents, and data collection processes.

Addresses potential recruitment challenges and patient retention activities

As ISLs actively engage in recruitment and patient retention strategies, training MSLs about ways to mitigate recruitment challenges is essential. Moreover, training MSLs prepares them to support investigators in enhanced patient enrollment and retention throughout the trial.

Differentiate the role of ISL vs CRA in each part of clinical trials

Specialized training of MSLs makes them aware of Clinical Research Associates (CRA) roles. While CRAs emphasize monitoring and regulatory compliance, ISLs contribute additional support layers by actively engaging in scientific discussions, protocol assessments, and problem-solving activities.

Makes MSLs ready for scientific support of investigators

Scientific support to investigators is a cornerstone of the ISL role. ISLs become valuable resources for investigators, helping protocol understanding, addressing scientific queries, and fostering collaborative relationships between clinical investigators and pharmaceutical companies. This support extends beyond the operational aspects, enriching the scientific discourse between investigators and pharmaceutical companies.

Interactive Training Developed by MphaR

MphaR has designed a training program incorporating interactive elements to enhance the learning experience. It leverages real-world scenarios, case studies, and simulations to prepare MSLs for the dynamic challenges presented by their role as ISLs in clinical trials.

Here’s a quick glance at MphaR’s training program, which specializes in MSLs’ role as ISLs.

  • Online learning and offline pre-read materials
  • Interactive tasks and special activities involving MSL and ISL roles
  • Educational support and workshops about pharmacovigilance
  • Special sessions on KOLs identification and engagement strategies
  • Engagement with clinical investigators and KOLs, preparing MSLs for real-time experiences
  • Soft skills, including effective communication and presentation of a scientific paper
  • MphaR’s Journal Club with access to publications and protocols
  • Real-time protocol training and workshop

MphaR has long been recognized as one of the leading teams with extensive experience in MSLs training. Now, MphaR is also providing ISL training initiatives to manage the increasing complexity of clinical trials for MSLs and make them ready for evolving roles.


In conclusion, the role of MSLs has evolved significantly in the last decades, from marketing representatives to the scientific face of the pharmaceutical industry. The expanding role of MSLs as Investigator Science Liaisons (ISLs) reflects the industry’s recognition of their strategic significance in supporting clinical investigators and necessitates their training as ISLs. Specialized training programs empower MSLs with the knowledge and skills needed to navigate the complexities of clinical trials effectively. These programs usually involve an in-depth understanding of clinical trials, explore the distinctive role of CRAs, and make MSLs ready to provide scientific support to clinical investigators. MphaR’s interactive training program, followed by real-time protocol training, stands at the forefront, equipping MSLs for dynamic ISL roles.

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